Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger has revealed Thomas Vermaelen will be sidelined for another month.
Key defender Vermaelen has been missing since August with a troublesome Achilles injury that was initially thought to have ruled him out for a matter of days. Wenger confirmed two weeks ago the Belgium international would return in January but has now decided to delay his comeback until the end of that month.
"I would rather say late January," said Wenger, whose side have struggled defensively in Vermaelen's absence. "He is short on fitness and we have to build it up. That will take three to four weeks."
He added: "He has started now and the signs are good. But I have been hit so many times with backlash that I am very cautious with Vermaelen."
There was better news on the recovery of Kieran Gibbs, who has been out for two weeks with an ankle problem.
"Gibbs should be available at the beginning of January," said Wenger, who is also without goalkeeper Manuel Almunia (ankle) until next month.
It was therefore a boost when the Gunners boss confirmed Lukasz Fabianski would return to the squad for Monday's crunch Barclays Premier League clash with Chelsea.
Injuries to Fabianski (hip) and Almunia forced Wenger to blood Wojciech Szczesny in last Monday's 1-0 defeat at Manchester United. Abou Diaby is also back in the fold after almost two months out with an ankle injury.
Both Fabianski and Diaby would have been in the squad for Saturday's postponed match with Stoke, as would Cesc Fabregas and Robin van Persie, but the break has allowed the quartet to move closer to match fitness.
"We have everybody back," Wenger told Arsenal TV Online. "We had them in the squad for Stoke: Diaby, Fabregas, Van Persie - Fabianski too. They have had one more week to prepare for this game and build up their fitness. That will have helped them of course."
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