HATEM Ben Arfa is finally back up to speed – and that could spell bad news for Premier League defences.
The forward, troubled for much of last season with a hamstring injury, is set to play for Newcastle United against Portuguese side Pacos de Ferreira tonight (8pm kick-off).
The 26-year-old’s pace and creativity – so important to the fifth-place Premier League finish in 2012 – was missed during his lengthy absences.
The challenge for Pardew and the club’s staff is to keep him fit.
Ben Arfa has been worked hard during the club’s training camp in Portugal by the club’s new performance director Faye Downey.
And he’s now going “flat out” without any problems, according to Pardew.
“His injury in the second leg of the Maritimo game was a massive blow to us last year,” Pardew explained.
“Really and truly, he never recovered. He wasn’t quite right.
“But we told him to have a complete rest this summer and let his hamstring heal.
“Now it’s about putting the work in so he’s strong enough to sustain a season.
“We’ve had him flat out and he’s already reached the top speed he’s had at this club.
“Fingers crossed, he’ll get his first bit of action and he’ll get stronger as we go on.”
Ben Arfa’s three-year career at United has been punctuated by long spells in the treatment room and Pardew is hopefulthat his injury problems are finally behind him.
“He’s a player fans love as he brings excitement,” he added.
“You’re on the edge of your seat. Newcastle have always had a tradition of that type of player.
“It’s important for me that we’ve got him in the squad.
“He’s that type of player. Who knows what level he can get to if he stays 100 per cent fit?
“When we finished fifth, he had a few games where he was almost unplayable.”
Captain Fabricio Coloccini and Mathieu Debuchy are also pencilled in to play against Pacos de Ferreira.
“Hatem, Colo, Mathieu and Yohan Cabaye all missed chunks of the season.
“Those four players are very important to us.
“It would be nice to see them with Newcastle shirts on looking strong. They’ve worked really hard.”
Pardew – whose team lost 3-1 to Rio Ave on Saturday – is expecting a difficult game against Pacos de Ferreria, who qualified for the Champions League’s fourth qualifying round last season after finishing third in the Primeira Liga.
“We’ll play under fatigue, there’s no doubt about that,” said Pardew. “We’ve worked really hard.
“There’ll be a lot of substitutions, but hopefully we can get a really good win.
“It’s a Champions League team. They’re a really good side.”