Andre Santos, the Arsenal left-back, has been ruled out for up to three months after the club confirmed the Brazilian international requires surgery on ankle ligaments damaged in last week's 3-1 Champions League defeat to Olympiakos. His absence leaves Arsène Wenger facing five Premier League fixtures in the next three weeks without any fit senior full-backs.
The 28-year-old was forced off just after half-time in Piraeus last week and an Arsenal statement yesterday confirmed that Santos, signed from Fenerbahce for £6m this summer, will undergo surgery on his right ankle in his homeland this week. He is not expected to return to action before March.
Santos's understudy, Kieran Gibbs, is still some weeks away from fitness after a hernia operation last month, the latest in a long line of setbacks for the 22-year-old England international, who has endured a torrid campaign. He is not expected to return in time for any of Arsenal's Christmas fixtures, with Wenger's side due to face Manchester City on Sunday, followed by games with Aston Villa, Wolves and Queen's Park Rangers. Gibbs may be fit for the visit to Fulham on 2 January.
Thomas Vermaelen, the centre-half, is likely to be asked to continue in the role until Gibbs's return, but such is the Englishman's injury record, Wenger may well have to rethink his original plan not to bolster his full-back resources in January. The Frenchman has intimated that he does not intend to buy defenders in the winter transfer window but, with his problems almost as endemic on the right as on the left, he is expected to reconsider.
Wenger has had to deploy Johan Djourou, also a centre-half, on the right with Bacary Sagna sidelined until well into the new year with a broken leg and Carl Jenkinson, the 19-year-old signed from Charlton at the start of this season for just £1m, out after the club discovered a stress fracture in his back.
Meanwhile, the Arsenal manager has moved to quell speculation linking him with a January move for Lyons' attacking midfielder Yoann Gourcuff.
"He is a good player and you are hard with him in France, but we are hoping that Jack Wilshere and Abou Diaby will soon return to fitness," Wenger said yesterday.