By Wayne Veysey
Arsenal are hopeful that Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will make his long awaited comeback from injury in the FA Cup third round.
The England international has not played since suffering a knee injury in the Gunners' defeat to Aston Villa on the opening day of the Premier League season.
Arsenal initially ruled Oxlade-Chamberlain out for three months but the damage to the midfielder's left knee has proved more severe than initially feared.
Goal understands that the north Londoners have now targeted the FA Cup third round, which takes place on the first weekend of January, for his return.
Oxlade-Chamberlain's comeback date has constantly changed over the last month. He started doing light running outdoors a fortnight ago and there had been hope from both parties that he could return to first team action by late November.
However, Arsenal's medical staff quickly hauled the player back indoors after it emerged that he was not ready and slowed down his rehabilitation.
Oxlade-Chamberlain strained his medial knee ligaments in a collision with Villa's Antonio Luna during the 3-1 defeat on August 17.
Arsene Wenger said in the wake of scans on the player's knee that he would be out for "six weeks" before the player went on Twitter to reveal that he would "hopefully be back playing in three months", as reported by Goal.
Should Oxlade-Chamberlain be back by the weekend of January 4 and 5, he will have been sidelined for four-and-a-half months in total - half of the season.
It has been a demoralising spell for the 20-year-old, who had got the nod over Lukas Podolski to start on the left flank in the season opener and had been expected to be given more game time this season, his third at the club.
Oxlade-Chamberlain is also running out of time to make a firm case to be included in Roy Hodgson's 23-man squad that will represent England in the World Cup finals next summer.
Follow Wayne Veysey on