Ashley Cole has revealed how he unwittingly played with a broken bone in his foot for six weeks before the injury ruled him out until the new year.
Cole has been out of action since early October with a fractured metatarsal in his right foot, the same injury later suffered by his replacement, Gaël Clichy.
It is a huge frustration for the England defender, who has already missed 11 games and could be ruled out of another nine or 10, including matches against Chelsea and Manchester United.
"It's annoying," he said. "At the start of the season, I felt really fit and I said to the physios - which probably jinxed it - that I was hoping not to miss a game all season. Then that happened and I was gutted."
Cole's injury problem was diagnosed by an X-ray ahead of England's World Cup qualifiers against Austria and Poland, having earlier been given the all-clear following a scan.
"In fact, I played with the injury for a month and a half because I didn't really know what it was at first. I was just putting ice on it every day because I thought it was just a knock," he admitted.
"Then I said to [Arsenal and England physio] Gary Lewin that it was hurting and that night it began to ache. So I had a scan before the Ajax game, but the scan showed it was just bruised, so I thought nothing of it and played against Ajax.
"Then I had an X-ray on it just before I joined up with England and, after that, Gary said I couldn't play with the injury because it could break all the way."
Cole is now continuing his rehabilitation work, with his estimated comeback date already having been pushed back from December to at least the new year.
"We just have to assess it every two weeks. I'm working in the gym, doing weights and on the bike but, until I can take the supportive boot off, I can't jog or anything like that. I haven't had any setbacks. It's just taking time to heal," he said.
Cole was initially replaced in the Arsenal first team by Clichy, but the France Under-21 international then sustained the same injury in a play-off against the England Under-21s during qualification for the European Championships.
"It's unbelievable, just crazy. It's the same foot as me and the surgeon said to me when I did mine that he hadn't seen anything like it in 25 years," Cole said. "Then Gaël does the same thing. It's one of those things but I feel so sorry for him. He is just getting his chance in the team and then that happens."
Pascal Cygan has filled in at left-back in recent games, while England Under-18 international Kerrea Gilbert made his senior debut in that position against Reading in Tuesday night's Carling Cup win.
Several youngsters impressed in that game, including the 19-year-old winger Quincy Owusu-Abeyie, but the route to the Arsenal first team is notoriously hard to navigate.
Cole is one of the club's few home-grown success stories, with three Reading players - Graham Stack, Steven Sidwell and James Harper - having all failed to make the grade at Highbury.
Cole said: "To make it here is very hard and you need a little bit of luck. There are always established players ahead of you, but look at the players who have gone on to make it elsewhere.
"Jermaine Pennant is doing really well, Julian Gray, Tommy Black and Matty Upson. I've spoken to a few of the youngsters.
"I just tell them to keep going and not to be afraid when they join the first team. If you want to make a career out of it then you can't be scared to put in a tackle."Reuse content