Arsène Wenger's fitness updates are tense occasions, given Arsenal's proclivity for injuries, so it was little surprise that Theo Walcott's possible return ahead of schedule was offset by fears that Jack Wilshere could miss the start of next season.
Immediately after the Gunners manager eased concerns over Walcott's hamstring injury, raising the prospect he could feature in their final game at West Bromwich Albion and confirming his availability for England at Euro 2012, the prognosis on Wilshere was more worrying. Wilshere's last outing came in June, when England faced Switzerland at Wembley, and he has since required a lengthy convalescence following ankle surgery.
It had been hoped that by avoiding this summer's finals in Poland and Ukraine as well as the Olympic Games, the 20-year-old would be fully primed to resume his career next season.
Stuart Pearce, the Team GB manager, raised the hope that Wilshere could yet play at the Olympics, but Wenger is reluctant to set him a fresh goal. "You cannot say [Pearce's] statement was completely helpful," said Wenger. "I do not want to set the Olympics as a target because I do not know whether he [Wilshere] will be fit to start at the beginning of the season. It is our target to get him to improve.
"I am cautious with him. Imagine you are 19 years old and you play in the national team. You prepare and suddenly, nothing at all. You get the first knock, the second knock, you think: 'OK, at least I will be ready for the Euros'. Then you have to convince him: 'Look, my friend, it will not work for the Euros.' You knock him down again. Then, you set him another target. If he doesn't make it, he will lose a complete appetite for rehab because it is difficult. You must work every day on the machines, not knowing when you come back.
"If you say, 'You can go to Olympics,' and he doesn't make it, what do you give him after? Let's take our time and not set any specific targets.
"With Theo, it is less serious than we thought. He has a small chance to play in the last game. He won't play against Norwich [next Saturday], but for the Euros there is no doubt."
Arsenal travel to Stoke this afternoon with the importance of finishing in third place heightened by Chelsea's participation in the Champions League final. Should the Blues beat Bayern Munich on 19 May, the Premier League's fourth-placed team would drop down into the Europa League. The Gunners are currently three points ahead of fourth-placed Newcastle, who have a game in hand.
"It is not completely fair," said Wenger, "but it is the rule that everybody knows before the season starts; we have to accept it."Reuse content