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Fitness concerns delay Ben Arfa's return
HATEM Ben Arfa's return from injury is on hold after Alan Pardew admitted he was “disappointed” with the Newcastle United winger's fitness levels in training this week.
Ben Arfa, who has been sidelined since tearing his hamstring in November's Europa League tie with Maritimo, returned to England at the start of last week after a period of convalescence at the French Football Federation's Clairefontaine Academy.
He will travel to Swansea's Liberty Stadium tomorrow having previously been pencilled in for a first-team return against the newly-crowned Capital One Cup winners.
However, with Pardew having been less than impressed with the state of his general fitness over the last few days, the 25-year-old will not be playing a significant role as Newcastle attempt to maintain their recent upturn in form and make it four wins from their last five Premier League matches.
“Hatem's conditioning has disappointed me this week,” said Pardew. “He lacks a bit of fitness and that is something we need to push on. His upper body strength is there, but his general fitness needs to improve.
“My gut feeling is that I'll take him (to Swansea), but he will work when he's with me, and he'll work hard. He's been protecting his hamstrings, but now it's a question of trying to get the work in.”
Ben Arfa suffered a serious tear when he damaged his hamstrings almost four months ago, and it was initially feared that surgery would be required to repair the problem.
That did not prove necessary, but the avoidance of an operation has forced Newcastle's medical staff to tread carefully during the winger's rehabilitation.
It appears as though that cautious approach has carried over into the final stage of Ben Arfa's recovery, and while Pardew is keen to attach no blame to a player with a history of volatility, there is clearly a degree of frustration at the length of time it is taking the France international to return to full fitness.
“He had a little bit of trouble this week with illness and missed a day, and he's missed a couple of other days here and there which have cost him,” said the Newcastle boss. “I think that from now on, he cannot miss any more days.
“I am not being critical of him, definitely not. I'm just telling our fans because I know our fans will be thinking, 'Let's get Hatem in the team', and he isn't ready. My sports science boys are pushing him, but we can only push him as far as we can.
“On the back of a really bad hamstring injury, I can understand why we have been so protective of him. But now is the time to kick on.”
Ben Arfa will not be the only notable absentee from Newcastle's starting line-up tomorrow, with skipper Fabricio Coloccini and goalkeeper Tim Krul also expected to miss out.
Coloccini, who retains an outside chance of being involved in south Wales, is nursing the back injury he sustained while attempting an overhead clearance in the first half of Sunday's win over Southampton.
Krul damaged his ankle in the closing stages of the Europa League win over Metalist Kharkiv and is facing another month on the sidelines.
“Krul is out, and Coloccini is probably out too, and six weeks ago, we would not have had a chance of winning in Swansea without them,” said Pardew. “But we have a lot more competition now and the team is a lot stronger than it was, so we have a chance if we play well.
“We had a massive win there last year with Papiss' wonder goal, and the one he got for us last week (against Southampton) bodes well. We've just got to focus on our performance and we're well prepared.”
After Sammy Ameobi joined Middlesbrough until the end of the season at the start of week, Shane Ferguson became the latest youngster to leave Newcastle on loan yesterday when he joined Championship strugglers Birmingham City until April 1.
James Tavernier is also set to seal a loan deal shortly, and Pardew admits he placed too much stock in his young players at the start of the season.
“One call we got wrong was to select those younger players and get them working in the first team,” he said. “We were too far ahead of ourselves and it wasn't really happening for them, so now they need to go out on loan and develop.
“I've never lost faith in those players, and we need to keep trying and working with them, although they need to improve to play in the first team here. You could say we've sent out the cream of our young players and we hope to see a reward for that next year.”
Pardew has been shortlisted for the Premier League Manager of the Month award for February, with Moussa Sissoko nominated for the Player of the Month award.
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