Arsenal are set to be without Thomas Vermaelen for at least another month, manager Arsene Wenger said Wednesday.
The Belgium defender has been out of action since August with an Achilles injury and so has played no part in the north London club's march to second in the Premier League, two points behind leaders Manchester United.
Arsenal had hoped to have Vermaelen available early next month but Wenger said: "I would rather say late January. He is short on fitness and we have to build it up. That will take three to four weeks. 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."
But Wenger was more optimistic about Kieran Gibbs, sidelined for two weeks with an ankle injury. "Gibbs should be available at the beginning of January," said Wenger.
At least the Gunners' goalkeeping injury problems are lessening with Lukasz Fabianski set to return from a hip problem ahead of Monday's match against champions Chelsea. Injuries to Fabianksi and Manuel Almunia (ankle) meant Wenger was forced into handing a debut to Wojciech Szczesny in last Monday's 1-0 defeat by Manchester United.
Meanwhile Abu Diaby is set to return after two months out with an ankle injury while both key midfielder Cesc Fabregas and striker Robin van Persie are nearing full fitness, having had additional recovery time following the postponement of last weekend's match against Stoke.
"We have everybody back," Wenger said. "We had them in the squad for Stoke: Diaby, Fabregas, Van Persie - Fabianski too," the Frenchman added. "They have had one more week to prepare for this game and build up their fitness. That will have helped them of course.
"So, overall we miss only Vermaelen, Almunia and Kieran Gibbs now," he concluded. "They will not be back in the short-term - over Christmas - but everybody else is available."