Pardew: Ben Arfa our Suarez
Newcastle boss Alan Pardew is relishing the opportunity to unleash Hatem Ben Arfa on the Barclays Premier League once again as he anticipates a late push.
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Hatem Ben Arfa
The 26-year-old France international made his first appearance in 12 weeks in the Europa League against Anzhi Makhachkala on Thursday evening after recovering from a hamstring tear, and might have marked his return with a vital away goal.
Ben Arfa was, perhaps understandably, feeling the after-effects of his exertions on the artificial pitch at Moscow's Luzhniki Stadium as the Magpies returned to the training ground on Saturday.
However, Pardew is hoping he can play some part in Sunday's league clash with Stoke at St James' Park, and will look to the mercurial winger to do for his side what Luis Suarez does so often for Liverpool as a testing campaign draws to a close.
He said: "It's important that he has come back at maybe a crucial time because we have still managed to stay in the Europa League.
"We have done well in that competition and we have got a great chance on Thursday (after 0-0 draw in first leg of last-16 tie).
"But the most important thing is to get this win in the Premier League to give us some breathing space, and if we can get through this week, then Hatem is going to be very, very important to us.
"He's a massive player at this level. He's our Suarez - he's that different player, someone who in a tight game can create something out of nothing."
Ben Arfa was asked to play in an unaccustomed lone striking role in Moscow with Papiss Cisse having remained behind because of illness and Pardew not wanting to risk Shola Ameobi from the start on that particular playing surface.
However, he did the job asked of him and might have capped the evening of his 26th birthday with the only goal of the game had his 64th-minute chip from Yohan Cabaye's pass evaded keeper Vladimir Gabulov.
Pardew said: "He's a fantastic player, tremendous technique and a great mentality to be one of the best players in the world.
"That's what he wants to be. That's his target and all I am trying to do is drive him towards that goal."
Cisse is likely to return tomorrow after training today, although Ameobi is a doubt with an ankle problem - the legacy of his appearance as a substitute on Thursday night.
Mathieu Debuchy and Yoan Gouffran, who are ineligible for the European games, will also be available once again, as will Jonas Gutierrez, who did not travel because of concerns over the repercussions for his knee of playing on the plastic pitch in Moscow.
It emerged could earlier this week that captain Fabricio Coloccini could be sidelined by seven weeks after breaking two bones in his back, while first-choice goalkeeper Tim Krul continues his recovery from an ankle injury.
However, Pardew has been delighted with the way understudy Rob Elliot, with whom he first worked during his time at Charlton, has stepped forward to replace Krul.
The 26-year-old produced two fine saves in Moscow to deny Samuel Eto'o and soothe any fears over the Dutchman's enforced absence.
Pardew said: "It's a tough agenda for him because Tim is a Dutch international and a great goalkeeper, and the fans love him here, so there's always that pressure.
"But I never doubted his ability. The only problem Rob had when I first managed him was a lack of confidence.
"But we pursued him because we knew that. After I left and (goalkeeping coach) Andy Woodman stayed there, he grew as a first-team goalkeeper and confidence was all the problem was. Now he's got that.
"He's a great shot-stopper - he's one of the best, trust me - and he's finding a nice little niche here."