Arsene Wenger's injury crisis took another turn for the worse last night when his current first-choice left-back Kieran Gibbs limped out of the England Under-21s game against Lithuania. With Gaël Clichy already out for another month, it leaves Wenger casting around for a third-string replacement in his defence.
Gibbs, 20, came off in the 21st minute of Stuart Pearce's side's European Championship qualifier in Vilnius, which ended in a goalless draw, in what has become a disastrous international break for Arsenal. Robin van Persie has ruptured ankle ligaments and Abou Diaby has pulled out of the France squad with a calf strain to compound the problems the squad already had.
Armand Traoré, recently returned from injury himself, is the most obvious replacement for Gibbs at left-back to play against Sunderland on Saturday but there are other significant absentees. Both Nicklas Bendtner and Denilson are out, with the latter expected to come back to training, Clichy has a back problem and will miss another month. Theo Walcott is only just returning to training.
Wenger will not see his players until tomorrow morning at the earliest and he still has the likes of Andrei Arshavin and William Gallas in action in World Cup play-off second-leg games tonight. The club were still trying to get an exact report on Gibbs' condition from the under-21s medical team last night.
The fallout from the decision by Van Persie to seek alternative treatment with Serbian doctor Marijana Kovacevic, who uses fluids from placentas to treat injuries, continued yesterday when the Serbian Football Association sought to distance themselves from her. The spokesman for the Serbia national team, who play South Korea in a friendly at Craven Cottage tonight, said that she had not been endorsed by his governing body.
It is understood that the Serbia national team's medical department are extremely dubious about Dr Kovacevic, but allow the players to visit her nonetheless at their own discretion. Aleksandar Boskovic, the spokesman for the Serbian FA, said: "We don't know this woman, we have never met her and she is not involved in any official capacity with our national team."
However, sources have claimed that up to a dozen players in the Premier League have visited Dr Kovacevic including some from Manchester United, Manchester City and Chelsea. United's Serbian winger Zoran Tosic, signed for £7m from Partizan Belgrade in January, is understood to be one of Dr Kovacevic's clients.
Dr Kovacevic's methods do not sound entirely dissimilar from those of Eileen Drewery, the faith healer employed by Glenn Hoddle when he was manager of England. A source close to the Serbia national team said that Dr Kovacevic had cultivated an air of mystique among the players. "She tends to use a darkened room and a lot of candles," said the source.
Having built up a reputation among the Serbian players and welcomed the publicity that her healing powers have brought, Dr Kovacevic was not returning calls yesterday. In the meantime the Liverpool striker Dirk Kuyt criticised Van Persie's treatment by the Italy defender Giorgio Chiellini and Italy in general.
Kuyt said: "I was very disappointed [by Italy]. We played a friendly against a big country and if you see the way they kicked us it's very sad for the Dutch team and also very sad for Robin because he was in great form. I think it was a bad tackle. Sometimes you think about this when you play a friendly for your country: there should be more respect for each other, and hopefully it won't happen in future."