Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has confirmed that midfielder Jack Wilshere's rehabilitation process has finally reached the phase where he can take part in outdoor training sessions.
Wilshere's last competitive football match remains the Euro 2012 qualifier that he played for England against Switzerland in June last year. He picked up an ankle injury while on international duty with the Three Lions squad and had to subsequently go under the knife to repair the damage.
The Stevenage-born player isn't the only Arsenal man frequenting the treatment room these days. For their Sunday's match against Manchester United, the North Londoners could be without nine of their first team players.
But as far as Wilshere is concerned, the worst is behind him and even though his recovery hasn't gone all that smoothly, he is expected to make his much anticipated comeback from injury next month.
Talking about the 20-year old playmaker's current fitness status, Wenger said, "There is positive news about him, because he is back to running after he had a little setback with the inflammation of his bone. He is able to go outside and practice, but he is a few weeks away."
Another player who is almost certain to miss out the Man United match is the Belgian central defender Thomas Vermaelen, although Wenger could put him through a late fitness test in order to give him a chance of proving his fitness.
"At the moment, I don't think he [Vermaelen] will make it for Sunday. Let's hope we have a good surprise. Let's see how he develops. There may be a test. At the moment, we just go day by day. But he looks short," the manager said.
On-loan striker Thierry Henry's participation on Sunday is also doubtful because of a calf injury. The Gunners fans want to see their record goal scorer play against their arch-rivals but he faces a fitness test tomorrow that will ascertain whether he is in a condition to help his teammates avenge the embarrassing 8-2 beating they received at Old Trafford earlier in the season.
Wenger's biggest concern for the United game will be his lack of options at the fullback positions. Injured defenders Bacary Sagna (broken leg) and Kieran Gibbs (groin) are still two to three weeks away from their projected return dates, while Carl Jenkinson's back problem has improved but he is still not fit enough to answer his team's call. Long-term absentee Andre Santos, who is also nursing an ankle injury, has two more months left in his basic rehabilitation period.
Wenger is reportedly scouring the market for short-term solutions to ease his team's defensive crisis on the wings, but against coach Alex Ferguson's men, the French schemer will have to make do with whatever options are available to him.
In a quick word with the media reporters earlier today, he said, "Before Sunday's game nobody will come in so we will have now to focus on the players [we have]. I will assess the situation after the game on Sunday but until then nothing will happen now for us."
Then there is the midfield pair of Mikel Arteta and Francis Coquelin, who also have no chance of featuring against the Red Devils. Both of them are expected to be fit for Arsenal's FA Cup clash with Aston Villa that will be played on January 29 at the Emirates.