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Ben Arfa values league higher than Europe

Hatem Ben Arfa has admitted that the Europa League remains an important avenue for Newcastle, but concedes that improving the club's Premier League form remains paramount.

• Blog: Remembering Sir Bobby

Ben Arfa, 25, has missed much of 2013 after sustaining an injury in the European game at home to Portuguese side Maritimo in December. Still to play with any of the club's new signings, the winger was also left out of the Magpies squad that travelled to Ukraine on Wednesday for the last-32 second-leg match against Metalist Kharkiv as a precaution, but hopes his team-mates can achieve success without him.

"The Europa League is still very important for us," Ben Arfa told the Evening Chronicle. "If we qualify, it will be a very good thing for the club. I think we can go far in this cup, but the most important thing is the Premier League - we have to finish higher."

Meanwhile Davide Santon, who also did not travel, believes the positive atmosphere synonymous with Newcastle's fifth-place finish last season has now returned to the club.

Santon, 22, joined the Magpies from Inter Milan in 2011 and has celebrated a return to the Italian national team since moving to Tyneside. Despite the club struggling in his second season in the Premier League, the defender believes spirits amongst the squad have reached a high after a flurry of January transfer business. "We are feeling better - in training the atmosphere is very good," Santon told the Evening Chronicle. "The new players have settled in well and enjoy it here. We are looking forward now."

Another player missing from the trip to Ukraine with the tie poised at 0-0 on aggregate in Yoan Gouffran, who made an impressive impact upon joining the club last month before sustaining a leg injury.

"We were sad for Yoan but I hope he is better for the next game," Santon said. "He is a good character for us and will be really important."

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