Vermaelen return put back again, manager admits

It slipped out so quickly that hardly anyone noticed, but afterwards the news began to sink in. Asked by a shareholder about the club's injury problems Arsène Wenger mentioned that, "I could not say when [Thomas] Vermaelen will play again".

The Belgian defender, who became the linchpin of Arsenal's defence almost immediately after arriving last summer, was injured captaining his country on 7 September. At the time Wenger said he thought the injury "should be short-term", even suggesting Vermaelen could be fit to play the following week. As recently as 15 October he said the 24-year-old "would be back in 10 days". Now there is only uncertainty. The club hope surgery will not be required, but are concerned at the slow pace of recovery.

Wenger may also be without another central defender, Laurent Koscielny, for Sunday's trip to Manchester City. The defender suffered a back injury at Chelsea on 3 October. With Bacary Sagna (thigh injury, sustained with France earlier this month) also doubtful Wenger may have only one of his first-choice back four, left-back Gaël Clichy, available.

He can, though, call on Nicklas Bendtner, who made his first appearance of the season as a substitute against Shakhtar Donetsk on Tuesday. The striker, who had been troubled by a persistent groin injury, said yesterday: "I'm in the best physical shape ever. It's my intention to come back very strongly and show everyone what they've been missing."

With Cesc Fabregas and Theo Walcott also back in midweek,and Robin van Persie and Aaron Ramsey expected to make a return next month, Arsenal's injury crisis appears to be easing. When questioned Wenger insisted the injuries did not indicate a poor training regime of insufficient medical expertise, noting that many were impact injuries sustained in matches.

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