HATEM Ben Arfa is likely to be restricted to a “10-minute cameo” at Swansea after Alan Pardew warned his midfield maestro he must take his fitness up a notch to be involved in Newcastle United’s crucial March programme.
Pardew had expected to unleash Ben Arfa in South Wales as United hit the home strait in a campaign that they hope to end with momentum, but the France international is not in the right condition to start.
He is likely to be restricted to a bench role against Anzhi Makhachkala in midweek too, with Pardew admitting that his conditioning has to go up “levels”.
There is no suggestion of any blame attached to Ben Arfa, however, with the Newcastle manager revealing that the player’s hamstring was so seriously injured it almost required an operation.
In those circumstances it is understandable that he has “protected” his hamstrings while rehabilitating in France and back in the North East – but the time is now right to turn up the intensity of his work.
“My gut feeling is that I’ll take him but he will work when he’s with me and he’ll work hard,” Pardew said.
“Really and truly if I do decide to use him, it will be a 10-minute cameo. His conditioning’s disappointed me this week and he’ll be working hard over the next few days.
“He lacks a bit of fitness. We need to push him. His upper body strength is there – but we’re working on his general fitness.”
While Pardew admitted Ben Arfa’s fitness isn’t up to the required level, he was quite clear that the player bears no blame for the issue.
And in a clear indication of his importance to the side, the United boss said he will hand the player an immediate recall when he is back at full tilt. “No, there is no blame attached to him. He had a little trouble this week with illness so he missed a day, and he has missed a couple of days here and there which have cost him. I think that from now on, he cannot miss any more days.
“But I am not being critical of him. Definitely not. I am just telling our fans because I know our fans are like, ‘let’s get Hatem in the team,’ and he ain’t ready.
“My sports science boys are pushing him but we can only push him as far as we can push him. Perhaps last week, when I talked him up, I was a bit premature.
“He is a great player for us and if he had a chance of playing, he would be in and around it.”
Ben Arfa’s limited role means he will be one of three first-team players unlikely to start at the Liberty Stadium.
Tim Krul’s ankle continues to be assessed but the United manager is braced for him to miss another “four or five weeks”, while Fabricio Coloccini is also a doubt.
Ben Arfa’s prolonged absence, Pardew has revealed, was down to a very serious hamstring knock.
“He has never had an op on it but I think it was pretty close to deciding to attach it again with an operation,” he said.
“That is how bad it was. We took the option not to do that, probably in the long term that was the best decision because you do not want to have surgery at any time really.
“That is why it has taken so long. I remember seeing a picture of it and it was a complete bleed in the whole leg so he had a lot of fluids and bad stuff in there.”
His participation in the Europa League is always up for debate.
“I’m just saying his conditioning has to go up the levels now and he’s aware of that,” Pardew said.
“He’s been protecting his hamstrings. It’s now a question of trying to get that work in.
“So the message I am giving the fans is don’t expect too much here.
“This guy, where I thought perhaps he could start on Thursday (in Moscow), I don’t think he can physically. But we are pushing him. We’re going to push him for Thursday if we can.”