Hatem Ben Arfa said he is ready to take a season of frustration out on Sunderland, as Newcastle United gear up for the Tyne-Wear derby with both clubs desperate in need of vital points - and bragging rights in the northeast.
The French international is pushing for only his second start in four months at St James' Park on Sunday, after a season dogged by persistent hamstring problems. At one point earlier this year, it was feared the 26-year-old midfielder's season was over but he avoided having to undergo surgery and made a cameo appearance in the midweek UEFA Europa League exit to Portuguese side Benfica.
Ben Arfa's injury woes have restricted him to just 16 appearances this season, starting with a horrific broken leg that kept him out for 11 months shortly after a £5m move from Marseille in 2010. He insisted, though, that his fitness worries are behind him and he was fully focused on increasing the pressure on Newcastle's relegation-threatened near neighbours, who make the 13-mile journey from the Stadium of Light.
Ben Arfa said: "I've felt pretty much okay for a while now but sometimes when you're coming back, you have little difficulties along the way but I'm looking forward to playing for what's left of the season." The player has been linked with a move to Liverpool in a swap deal for ex-Newcastle forward Andy Carroll but he insisted: "I want to stay here. People might talk about it but my agent and I haven't. I'm 100 per cent focused on Newcastle."
Ben Arfa looking to building upon midweek success
An impressive cameo as a second-half substitute failed to prevent Newcastle sliding to a 4-2 aggregate Europa League defeat by Benfica on Thursday. Ben Arfa said he was determined to help Alan Pardew's side bounce back by earning the three points that would all-but secure another season of Premier League football. The Newcastle manager is likely to err on the side of caution by keeping his talisman in reserve on the bench but Ben Arfa said he would be happy to play to reward fans for their loyalty.
"I hope to repay everything they have given me and Sunday is a good opportunity to do that," he added. "It's up to the manager to decide whether I start the game but if he wants me to, I can because I feel good."
The match will be the second in charge for new Sunderland manager Paolo Di Canio, who succeeded Martin O'Neill at the end of March, and his maiden Tyne-Wear derby. The Wearside club have won just once in 16 attempts against their near neighbours, their most recent three-points on Tyneside arriving almost 13 years ago.
"It's a record we have to change." Di Canio said. The Italian is confident that he can lead the club to safety in their final six games, with the club sitting precariously above the relegation zone, separated from the bottom three only on goal difference and a recent record of nine games without a win.
"The players have prepared well and they are ready for a game of this importance. It might only be another three points but we know to the fans it's a game that's worth 2,000 other matches and if we win it'll be a result that's fondly remembered for years," he said.