Arsène Wenger will prioritise a loan move for a left-back in January, after Kieran Gibbs underwent a second groin operation, and the Arsenal manager also admitted he would decide over the next week whether to offer a short-term contract to the club legend Thierry Henry.
Gibbs was admitted for the surgery after he suffered a setback in his recovery from the original operation – he has not played since mid-October – and although Wenger claimed the youngster would be out for only four weeks, the injuries that he has to defenders elsewhere in the squad will force him to look for cover. He wriggled when pressed over Wayne Bridge, the former England left-back, who is on the fringes at Manchester City, and he refused to rule out an offer for him.
Wenger was clear that he was looking for a "short-term solution" because in the longer term, when everybody was fit, he was happy with his options. But he faces some weeks yet without his full complement as the left-back André Santos is out until March with ankle ligament damage and, on the right, Carl Jenkinson has suffered a setback in his recovery from a stress fracture to the back and will not return for at least another four weeks, while Bacary Sagna has targeted the end of next month for his comeback from a fractured fibula. Sagna has returned to training, although Wenger urged caution as he "saw him still limping a little bit".
Wenger feels for Gibbs who, after the summer sale of Gaël Clichy to Manchester City, had high hopes of establishing himself as the club's first-choice left-back and making Fabio Capello's England squad for Euro 2012. But the Frenchman predicted that the defender would return stronger and he said it was not too late to for him to go to next summer's finals.
"Gibbs is incredibly unlucky," Wenger said. "But he can still play in the Euros because they are in June and we are in December. Normally, this injury would keep him out for four weeks so there is still a good opportunity. I feel sometimes for players between 19 and 20, if they get injured, their body adjusts a little to the requested physical level and then they can have a long period without injury. Some get through but most of them suffer injuries between 19 and 20.
"It builds them up as well, mentally. When you start, you think life is easy but then, this kind of injury is very difficult to cope with. The guy who doesn't play feels useless, especially when he is injured. He cannot even fight for his place so it is a difficult period. But it makes him tough."
Henry, now with New York Red Bulls, has been training at Arsenal during the MLS close-season and Wenger has considered turning to him as a stop-gap measure as he will lose Marouane Chamakh and Gervinho to the Africa Cup of Nations, which kicks off on 21 January.
Whether the Red Bulls would sanction any loan for Henry is unclear and Wenger is also conscious of the potential for his compatriot to become a distracting sideshow. Only two weeks ago a statue of Henry was unveiled at the Emirates Stadium. How would he feel about being a mere squad player?
"The first of January is the vital date for us," Wenger said. "We have seven days to make decisions and I will make a decision in the next seven days on players. That's why I have Christmas Day off … I have to think about that. Short-term is ideal for us but I haven't made any inquiry yet. Thierry is not here at the moment. It has never come up in conversation!"
That last remark was delivered with a broad grin; it is inconceivable that neither player nor mentor has raised the notion. But Wenger, characteristically, preferred to focus on Tuesday's visit of Wolverhampton Wanderers, the first of what feel like three winnable matches for Arsenal. They face Queens Park Rangers at home on New Year's Eve and Fulham away on Monday week.
"In the Premier League, it is vital to get your points in the Christmas period," Wenger said. "We responded well to our defeat at Man City with a win at Aston Villa so now it's down to us to do the job at home. We know we have an opportunity to gain a better position in the table."
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010
image: © Sean Jackson