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Stadium of Light is Magpies’ next stop
HATEM BEN ARFA has been told to forget the rest of the season, with manager Alan Pardew confident Newcastle United could still go all the way in the Europa League without the Frenchman.
The Magpies were yesterday handed a quarter-final tie with Portuguese league leaders Benfica after Papiss Cisse's late header knocked out Anzhi Makhachkala on Thursday night.
And, ahead of the first leg at the Estadio da Luz - the original Stadium of Light - on Thursday, April 4, Pardew has reiterated a belief that his team can win the competition, even without the mercurial Ben Arfa.
Concerns over the former Marseille forward's hamstring problem are such that there is a strong chance he will need surgery to repair the problem.
With just nine matches remaining of the Premier League season, that means he is unlikely to play again until August. Pardew has already resigned himself to that eventuality.
"We either go down a similar road to the one we went down before, or he has an operation," said Pardew. "The injury has re-occurred in the scar tissue, so do we build the scar tissue up again and try to get him back that way?
"The bottom line is I just said 'look, let's just forget him this year' and that way he has plenty of time to decide. Him, his team and our staff, what we think is right for him - and the French national team as well because they're in it too. They want him to be back at his best."
Ben Arfa made his comeback from a hamstring tear, suffered at Fulham on December 10, when he played 65 minutes of Newcastle's first leg with Anzhi at the Luzhniki Stadium. He has already had a 12-week lay-off with the problem.
His Newcastle career has been blighted by an horrendous double leg break in October 2010 which cost him almost a year of his time on Tyneside.
But Pardew has at least been encouraged by the fitness of Ben Arfa's compatriot, Yohan Cabaye. The stand-in skipper had to be replaced in the first half of Thursday's Europa League match with a groin problem.
"It's good news. I think he has a half chance for Sunday," said Pardew, whose side return to Premier League action at Wigan tomorrow afternoon.
"Yohan has the internationals next week for France and I think he would like to be available on Sunday in order to get there, which he wants to do."
After the international break, Newcastle go to Manchester City on March 30 before travelling to Portugal for the first leg in Lisbon against Benfica.
Pardew said: "It's a really glamorous tie, they're top of their league and I've been to their stadium, with the eagle circling the pitch, it's fantastic. I can't wait. They're actually a team I've always loved so I'm really looking forward to going.
"The glamour comes from the history of Benfica and the fact Lisbon is so accessible to our fans. We're going to have a fantastic following over there and it's going to be two very special games."
In defeating Anzhi - a mega-rich club he feels would finish in the Premier League's top five - Newcastle's hopes of winning a trophy for the first time since 1969 have increased further.
Pardew said: "We've employed different tactics in the Europa League and adapted well, but the Premier League is a European league. Look at Wigan, how many English players will they have? It's the same with us.
"It's not too big a jump between Premier League and Europa League, it's just a different mindset that we have adapted to well. You need to be a bit more patient.
"I think all the Premier League teams left in the competition have a great chance. Chelsea have focused on it, Spurs have focused on it and so have we.
"In the past it has got in the way of our domestic programme but not any more. We're pleased to avoid an English team, our fans and staff wanted another European game, another venue."
Newcastle goalkeeper Tim Krul is set to return to training after ankle trouble a week on Monday.