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England star suffers a recurrence of the complaint that has affected him for more than 12 months and could be set for lengthy absence

Rio Ferdinand is a major doubt for Manchester United’s trip to Arsenal on Sunday after breaking down in training with a back injury, Goal.com has learned.

The England defender suffered the injury on Thursday, missed training on Friday and is not expected to take part in the club’s final session on Saturday ahead of the match.

United’s coaching staff do not want to take any chances with the 33-year-old, who has suffered with persistent back problems over the last 12 months.

Sources have told Goal.com that Ferdinand is considered “highly doubtful” for Sunday’s mouth-watering Premier League showdown at the Emirates Stadium.

Manager Sir Alex Ferguson does not want the defender, who has missed big chunks of the last three seasons through injury, to suffer long-term damage, although the fear within the club is that it could herald another lengthy absence for the veteran center-back.

Ferdinand also suffered concussion in United’s 3-0 win over Bolton Wanderers last weekend, although he took to Twitter on Tuesday to rubbish rumors that he could be sidelined for the Arsenal game.

Ferguson did not reveal any details of Ferdinand’s new injury in his prematch media briefing on Friday morning, saying only long-term absentees Nemanja Vidic, Michael Owen and Fabio Da Silva were unavailable.

However, the United boss did reveal that Phil Jones and Chris Smalling are fit again after missing the Bolton victory. He is likely to pick two of Jones, Smalling and Jonny Evans to pair up at centre-back. Doubts about Jones’ reliability mean his athleticism could once again be used either at right-back or in central midfield.

Ferdinand has started 13 of United's 21 league matches this season and five of the club's six Champions League group games, an improved ratio on recent years.

But the winner of 81 international caps has lost his regular starting place for England and Ferguson said last November that he needs to adapt his game to make up for the pace he has lost.

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