Arsenal will not be able to count on Jack Wilshere anytime soon, after Arsene Wenger confirmed the midfielder would not be available until February.
Wenger had initially hoped to have Wilshere back at the turn of the year, but with progress slow and Wilshere yet to start proper training with the ball, it looks like being a longer wait than expected.
Wilshere has missed virtually the entire season, and now the question of if he will play at all this campaign will have to be asked, even if Wenger is hopeful of a February return for the midfielder he rates so highly.
"He will not be back before February, that's for sure," Wenger said. "Is there a comeback date? I say February but, honestly, I don't know.
"I let him do his recovery. It's going slowly. Once he goes outside to train and once he is back again into sharp, hard work, physically, you count five or six weeks. At the moment, he is not there yet."
Wenger was criticised for overplaying some of his key men as Arsenal crashed to a woeful 4-0 defeat to Southampton on Boxing Day, but with Alexis Sanchez, Wilshere, Santi Cazorla, Francis Coquelin, Mikel Arteta, Tomas Rosicky and Danny Welbeck still on the treatment table, the manager might have little option but to stick to pretty much the same squad of players.
"That is always a question we will get," Wenger said when asked about the strength and depth of his Arsenal squad.
"I think we have many players who are injured and come back soon. Buy, buy, buy is always the solution people see but [against Southampton] we couldn't score and we conceded goals but we have enough defenders."
One of those defenders who could come in from the bench is Gabriel, with Per Mertesacker having a difficult time of it against Southampton, while Laurent Koscielny came off second best in the physical battle with Shane Long.
In central midfield, Wenger has very little options, so Aaron Ramsey should start again, and Mathieu Flamini might get the nod, provided he passes a fitness test. If the Frenchman is deemed unavailable or not quite fit enough to start, Calum Chambers will get an opportunity to show he can cut it in midfield.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will hope for a start further up the pitch, while Wenger might consider giving Olivier Giroud a rest and choose to play Theo Walcott down the middle, something the England international hasn't done since his return from injury.