Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger has revealed Kieran Gibbs could return from injury before the end of the season -- but effectively dismissed any hopes the youngster could be the answer to England's left-back problems.
Gibbs was last month ruled out for the rest of the campaign after undergoing surgery on the foot he injured during a Champions League match against Standard Liege in November.
The 20-year-old has made good progress in his recovery and Wenger admitted there was an outside chance he could play again this season.
With Ashley Cole sidelined by a serious ankle injury and Wayne Bridge announcing yesterday he does not wish to be chosen for Three Lions duty, England's left-back jersey at the World Cup appears up for grabs.
Wenger doubts, however, that Gibbs will be a contender for the role.
"There is a chance he will be back (before the end of the season), if all goes well," the Frenchman said.
"But I can't give you any date for his return to football and it's very premature at the moment.
"He is still in a little cast and we are near the beginning of March."
Wenger does see Gibbs, who has impressed on England Under-21 duty, as a great prospect for the future and reckons he will soon make the national team's senior squad.
"I think he will one day play for the national team. I am convinced of that," Wenger added.
Gibbs will be one of a raft of players missing when the Gunners take on Stoke tomorrow, with Abou Diaby, William Gallas, Robin van Persie and Andrey Arshavin also out.
Croatia striker Eduardo could feature after recovering from a hamstring injury as Wenger eyes a victory that would keep his team in Premier League title contention.
"The title race will be very tight," Wenger said. "If you consider that the only chance we have is if we win our games, that is what we have to do."