Arsenal have suffered a setback with the news that midfielder Gilberto could be ruled out for the season, due to a back injury.

Manager Arsene Wenger had expected the Brazilian back next month. But the latest diagnosis. Has made that assessment seem wildly optimistic.

“It’s not good news on Gilberto,” Wenger admitted. “We had a check on his back and it looked like the bone has not grown and the distance of the fracture is still exactly the same.

“We have decided to rest him six more weeks and have sent him back to Brazil on holiday. He has to rest completely…and when he comes back it is not sure he will be capable of playing.

“We don’t think it is (career-threatening), but it is season-threatening. If in the next six weeks, the bone has not completely grown together, we have to give him three months more.”

Wenger, who ruled out surgery for the Brazilian, said: “In central midfield, we are very short.”

Injuries to Matthieu Flamini and Edu, mean that Wenger has only skipper Patrick Vieira and 17-year-old Spaniard Francesc Fabregas fit for duty in central midfield.

“It is not ideal,” Wenger said. “He (Fabregas) played on Saturday, he played on Tuesday (for Spain’s Under-21s against England), he’ll play tomorrow, on Wednesday and on Sunday — and he’s 17.

“At the beginning of the season, I counted on him playing 15 to 20 games if needed. At the moment, he’s nearly there.”