Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger has said that midfielder Jack Wilshere still has a key role to play this season despite being ruled out for up to three months with injury.
The England international started the season in good form, and recent performances in a deeper role garnered much praise from Premier League pundits.
Wilshere's progress, however, has been momentarily halted after he picked up an ankle injury during the Gunners’ 2-1 defeat at home to Manchester United last weekend.
United youngster Paddy McNair was the culprit, mistiming a tackle which left the 22-year-old clutching his ankle in agony and requiring surgery.
It’s another bitter pill to swallow for Wenger as the French boss struggles to cope with a somewhat injury crisis at the Emirates Stadium, but he did have encouraging words for the midfielder.
Speaking to the club’s official website ahead of the Premier League clash with West Bromwich Albion on Saturday, Wenger told reporters that Wilshere still has a key role to play this season and will be back in action for the run-in.
“It's a blow, first for him and of course for the team as well because we are hit very hard this season by injuries that you cannot do anything about,” he said.
“People always question the medical [side of things], but what can you do about [the tackle Jack received]?”
“He's strong - he's already focused on a comeback, and he'll help us in the final sprint over the last three months.
"I think he will be available at the earliest at the end of February or the beginning of March. Then there's still three months to go and he can play an important part in the season.”
Wilshere has made 15 appearances in all competitions for Wenger’s side this season, scoring one goal in the process.
The England international is likely to miss a number of key fixtures, including Manchester City away in January and the North London derby at White Hart Lane in February.