Jack Wilshere is “gutted” over his new injury setback, the Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger said yesterday.
The 20-year-old England midfielder, who has not played yet this season, felt pain in his ankle on Tuesday and will have a series of consultations this weekend. Arsenal hope to have a new time-scale for his recovery by tomorrow evening.
"It is a massive disappointment," Wenger said yesterday, "but I am really disappointed for him as well because he is a football animal. I am so sad that at that age you have to be out for such a long time with not any obvious reason. If you had told me that Jack would not have played by February I would have said 'That's impossible'."
Wilshere played in pre-season but struggled with pain in his right ankle which was eventually diagnosed as a stress fracture. He had surgery in September and started running in mid-December but Wenger confirmed yesterday that Wilshere had pain in the ankle again this week while running.
"A stress fracture is a stress fracture," Wenger said. "The repetition of the impact on the ankle was too much." The specialists will now assess the extent of damage and its likely prognosis.
Even if Wilshere is able to resume training soon, however, Wenger said that he would not be able to play in England's friendly againstthe Netherlands on 29 February. "It's impossible to play at the end of February, even if we have some good news," Wenger said. "From day one, when you are completely fit to practise again, to be match fit you count at least six weeks." Indeed, given the disrupted nature of Wilshere's season, the fear must be that he does not recover full fitness to be available for the Euro 2012 in June.
Arsenal's home FA Cup tie tomorrow against Aston Villa is their first game since the defeat to Manchester United in which Wenger's decision to replace Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain with Andrei Arshavin was scorned by much of the Emirates crowd.
"I'm not bothered by that," Wenger said of that negative reaction. "I'm paid to make decisions and you always need someone to make decisions. As well, when you have 60,000 people in the stadium there are always 100 or 200 who have different opinions. "
Wenger has not decided yet whether Robin van Persie will start tomorrow, while Thierry Henry, Mikel Arteta and the returning Bacary Sagna will all have late fitness tests.
Arsenal v Aston Villa
Arsenal: Szczesny, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Djourou, Vermaelen, Rosicky, Song, Arteta, Walcott, Henry, Oxlade-Chamberlain
Aston Villa: Given, Warnock, Dunne, Collins, Hutton, Petrov, Clark, Agbonlahor, Keane, Albrighton, Bent
FA Cup fourth round (Emirates Stadium)
Kick-off: 4pm tomorrow (ESPN; Highlights ITV 1, 10.45pm)
Ref: M Jones (Cheshire).
Odds: Home 4-7; Draw 3-1, Away 9-2.