Down and out
Van Persie injury stretches Gunners to limit as they enter defining period
Arsenal have suffered a further blow following Sunday's traumatic Carling Cup final defeat with the news that Robin van Persie is out for at least three weeks.
Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger confirmed yesterday that Theo Walcott will also miss the Champions League second leg against Barcelona because of his sprained ankle.
A scan revealed that Van Persie suffered knee ligament damage scoring Arsenal's equaliser against Birmingham City at Wembley and he will miss a critical phase of the season. Worryingly, Wenger was unable to be precise about when Van Persie would return and admitted that he could be absent for longer than three weeks.
Arsenal face Leyton Orient in the FA Cup at the Emirates tonight and, should they progress, Van Persie will also be unavailable for the quarter-final against Manchester United as well as their Champions League match at the Nou Camp next Tuesday.
In the Premier League, he will definitely miss matches against Sunderland and West Bromwich Albion.
Walcott is expected to return in two weeks, while Cesc Fabregas is rated as "a possibility" for the match against Barcelona after responding well to treatment on his hamstring.
The fear is that Arsenal's chances of silverware could have already ended by the time Van Persie, Walcott and Fabregas all return.
The club are also currently being forced to cover long-term injuries to goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski and centre-back Thomas Vermaelen.
Van Persie's latest injury was caused by the impact of volleying a spectacular goal, but this latest setback will again place the spotlight on his fitness record.
Van Persie has proved his importance to Arsenal with 14 goals in his past 14 matches, but has made only 28 club appearances over the past 15 months. He played on for 30 minutes after suffering his injury on Sunday.
"Unfortunately we had bad news on the scan and Robin will be out for the next three weeks for sure," said Wenger. "It could be longer. The shortest delay we can imagine is three weeks. He is definitely out for Barcelona.
"Alex Song has a knee problem as well. From his scan we had good news, it is only blood from a kick on the outside of his knee. He is out for Leyton Orient and has a very small chance for Saturday. But he has a good chance for Barcelona." Of Fabregas, Wenger added: "He is making quick and good progress. It is possible."
Defender Laurent Koscielny also has a hamstring problem but could return against Sunderland on Saturday."
The good news is that Abou Diaby and Aaron Ramsey are available and should be involved against Orient. For Ramsey, it would be his first Arsenal match in just over a year following his double leg fracture against Stoke City.
Goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny, whose misunderstanding with Koscielny led to Birmingham's last-minute Wembley winner, will be rested tonight. Wenger, though, has spent more time talking to Koscielny in an attempt to limit any damage to his confidence following Sunday's mistake.
"Koscielny has been a great player for us since the start of the season, so it's important he keeps his confidence level well and that he gets encouragement," said Wenger.
"He is really angry about it." Of the general mood after such a chastening defeat, Wenger added: "We were all unhappy. We feel we lost in a really disbelieving way.
"We are in a massive race in the championship, we have an opportunity to qualify in the FA Cup and we have won the first leg in the Champions League.
"We have much higher targets than the Carling Cup, even though we would have loved to have won it. We cannot let our motivation level or our confidence level drop because of the massive targets we have in front of us." (© Daily Telegraph, London)
Arsenal (probable, 4-2-3-1) -- Almunia; Eboue, Squillaci, Djourou, Gibbs; Denilson, Diaby; Bendtner, Rosicky, Arshavin; Chamakh.
Leyton Orient (probable, 4-5-1) -- Jones; Whing, Chorley, Forbes, Daniels; Revell, Smith, Crowe, Carroll, Cox; McGleish.
Ref -- L Mason.