HATEM Ben Arfa’s ready to face Stoke City – after getting through his European return unscathed.
The forward made his comeback from long-term injury in the Europa League against Anzhi Makhachkala in Moscow on Thursday night.
United boss Alan Pardew was reluctant to start Ben Arfa given his lack of fitness – but his hand was forced after Papiss Demba Cisse fell ill and missed the club’s visit to Russia.
Ben Arfa was handed a role up front as a “false nine” striker.
And the 26-year-old lasted more than an hour of the goalless draw at the Luzhniki Stadium to put himself in the frame to feature in the Premier League against Stoke at St James’s Park tomorrow.
Striker Shola Ameobi – who replaced Ben Arfa – will also be available, despite concerns over the toll the artificial surface would take on the striker, who had a loan spell at Stoke earlier in his career.
“Hatem lasted longer than I thought,” Pardew told SportMail.
“At half-time I thought we might have to take him off, but he got to 60 minutes, which means that Shola should be OK for Sunday.”
Ben Arfa – one of the few Newcastle players to hit form in the first half of the season – showed flashes of his talent against Anzhi, and Pardew’s looking forward to seeing a lot more from him between now the end of the season as he regains his fitness.
“It’s that electric sharpness that we know he’s got,” added Pardew. “He got away a couple of times, but he couldn’t get away fully.
“That’ll come in the next two weeks, but he’ll be involved against Stoke.”
Ben Arfa scored in his last league appearance, the defeat to Fulham at Craven Cottage in December.