Luckless Hatem Arfa gets his chance to impress Toon fans against Forest
Published 20/09/2011 | 08:27
NEWCASTLE boss Alan Pardew is ready to unleash his "elusive" surprise package on Nottingham Forest tonight.
After almost 12 months on the sidelines, luckless Frenchman Hatem Ben Arfa has been pencilled to play in tonight's Carling Cup third-round clash at the City Ground following his recovery from an ankle ligament injury.
To date, Pardew has seen the 24-year-old manage only a few minutes of the pre-season friendly at Sporting Kansas City in which he suffered his latest fitness setback, and the chance to pitch him into a competitive game for the first time in his reign is one he is relishing.
The manager said: "He will bring a creative force to the team that is different to what we have.
"He is probably different to a lot of players in the Premier League. He's elusive on the ball.
"What's important for him is to make sure he grabs the work-rate that we have got in the team.
"If he grabs that, he's got a good chance of getting into this team."
Ben Arfa, who initially joined the Magpies on loan from Marseille in August last year, made only four senior appearances before suffering an horrific double leg fracture in a challenge by Manchester City's Nigel de Jong on October 3.
Pardew replaced Chris Hughton at the helm two months later and despite never having seen the midfielder play, completed a permanent move for him in January.
A proposed return to action at the end of last season had to be put on ice, and the setback in the United States robbed him of much of his pre-season and the opening weeks of the new campaign.
However, Pardew is confident he is now ready to make his mark, and while he does not see the French international as a solution to the vacancy which still exists after a futile seven-month search for a striker to replace Andy Carroll, he has big plans for him.
He said: "We always factored Ben Arfa in, of course. I don't think that [the addition of another striker] would have affected him.
"He will have that number 10 role that Demba Ba did on Saturday and did very, very well for us, so that's where he's got good competition."
Pardew will make changes for the game at Forest, although whether that means a break for Ben Arfa's compatriot Yohan Cabaye remains to be seen.
The 25-year-old former Lille midfielder turned in perhaps his best performance to date for Newcastle at Aston Villa on Saturday, and while he was unfortunate not to open his goalscoring account in the Midlands, Pardew is convinced it will not be long before he does so.
He said: "He will bring goals and assists. He got 14 two years ago and won the double last year with a lot of assists.
"He's a great player, he's just a good player.
"A couple of games passed him by because of the frantic energy of the Premier League, but he will get to grips with it.
"He is still working out his relationship with Cheick [Tiote], but that was a lot better on Saturday and if we keep those two fit, we are going to win more games than we will lose, I think."
The Magpies head into their clash with Steve McClaren's npower Championship strugglers having put together a six-game unbeaten start to the season which has left them in fourth place in the Barclays Premier League table, but well aware of the risks of taking anything for granted.
Pardew said: "I can recall watching Cloughie's (Brian Clough) teams win that trophy many, many times when I was a young boy.
"They are a great club. It's always very, very difficult to go there and get a result."