HATEM BEN ARFA is hoping to make a sensational January return as his recovery from a double leg break progresses ahead of schedule.
It was feared that the midfielder would not be back until March at the earliest, but he has stunned doctors with his recovery – and can now walk on the injured leg again.
That is understood to be a significant step towards his goal of returning in the later weeks of January.
The France schemer has been out of action since the start of October, when Nigel De Jong's horror tackle at Eastlands left him with a broken leg in two places.
Since then he had a brief holiday in Tunisia before returning to Clairefontaine for a check up last week which was described as “very positive”.
He is set to begin work at a world class rehabilitation centre in Capbreton in the South of France on Monday – giving him real hope of an earlier-than-expected recovery.
Having Ben Arfa back would be a huge boost for Toon, who have missed his creativity and ability to pick a pass during some of their home games.
Chris Hughton last week confirmed there had been no complications in the recovery process, but was reluctant to put a timescale on his return. The club are determined not to rush him.
But the Sunday Sun understands that Ben Arfa is walking unaided and the player himself is hoping to be back in training by the turn of the year.
And that sets up the prospect of the 23-year-old being available for at least some part of United's January fixture programme. It would be a double boost for United, with long-term absentee Dan Gosling set to return to training next week.
The England under-21 midfielder has been out with a cruciate knee ligament since March.
A quick recovery for Ben Arfa and Gosling might also explain why Hughton believes he does not need to dip into the transfer market in January.
He is assessing winger options, with Manchester City's Adam Johnson and Shaun Wright-Phillips both long shot targets if Roberto Mancini makes them available.
Gosling and Ben Arfa's returns would give him the options he needs to continue plotting a path to survival, though.