Arsene Wenger has bemoaned the "disastrous" news regarding Santi Cazorla's latest injury complication and allayed any possible concerns over Mesut Ozil's commitment before Arsenal go head-to-head with rumoured suitors Manchester United.
Fan favourite Cazorla has not played for the Gunners since October 2016 due to a persistent right foot problem that required eight surgeries and became infected and gangrenous, eating eight centimetres of his achilles tendon and leading to fears over a potential amputation before requiring a graft of the tattooed skin on his forearm.
The Spaniard had been aiming to return in January after being left out of Arsenal's Premier League and Europa League squads for the first half of the season, although confirmed on Wednesday (29 November) that further discomfort had led to a ninth operation.
"That is for me, the disastrous, sad news of the day," said Wenger, who previously described Cazorla's injury as the worst he had ever seen in the sport. "I feel really sorry for Santi.
"He is a guy I admire, that we all love here, who came into training every day with a smile because he loved so much the game.
"For him not to be available for us, it is a big blow. But for him, as well, it is something that is difficult to take and I hope despite what happened ... I don't know exactly well. I have been informed medically but I have not read any report."
Cazorla, who is out of contract at the end of the season, admitted that latest hitch would further delay his return and doubts continue to persist as to whether or not he will ever be able to play top-level football again, having originally been told that he should feel grateful if he once again reaches the stage where he is able to walk in the garden with his son.
And while Wenger is unsure exactly how much more time the 32-year-old might miss, he is clearly yet to give up on the prospect of him turning out for Arsenal once more.
"I hope he will be alright and back with us in January," he added, per the Standard. "That was planned originally. I don't know what happened in the surgery. I don't know if it will put him back or not. I have to speak to the doctor on Thursday morning."
Wenger was speaking after Arsenal turned on the style in the second half to utterly demolish Huddersfield Town 5-0, with Mesut Ozil drawing widespread praise for a dynamic display in which he recorded two assists and scored a goal in under four minutes to help the hosts record a 12th successive home victory.
Saturday [2 December] will see the oft-maligned playmaker come up against a manager and a club supposedly interested in signing him on a free transfer next summer in Jose Mourinho and United.
Wenger was keen to play down those rumours ahead of the weekend, reiterating that Ozil's commitment was clearly not in question.
"Look, that's all speculation," he said. "You cannot interfere with that. There is only one way to show how much you are committed – your attitude on the pitch. When you see him play, one thing you cannot question is the way he wants to play for the team."
Asked again if Arsenal could consider selling Ozil and fellow contract rebel Alexis Sanchez in January in order to avoid losing them for nothing, the manager replied: "Well, let's first go towards Saturday, then in January we'll see what happens. But I just spoke about that in the last press conference and nothing has changed."