By Wayne Veysey | UK Correspondent
When the Arsenalfirst-team squad were given a day off in the middle of last week, one notable player was present at the club’s London Colney headquarters.
Jack Wilshere spent most of his time in the club’s purpose-built new medical centre as he continued his rehabilitation from the ankle injury that has kept him out for five-and-a-half weeks.
It has been a familiar routine for Wilshere in recent weeks – daily one-on-one sessions working on his recovery with Arsenal’s assortment of highly qualified and highly paid physios, conditioning and fitness staff.
The key apparatus has been the anti-gravity treadmill acquired by the club in 2011 after it had gained widespread approval from elite American sports institutions such as baseball’s Oakland Raiders, NBA’s Miami Heat and Stamford University.
The treadmill, originally designed for NASA astronauts, uses adjustable weight-bearing technology, allowing Wilshere to run without putting undue pressure on his healing ankles, specifically the right one that has been the focus of so much concern at the club since he injured it in the 2-1 defeat to Tottenham on March 3.
It is believed that Wilshere had complained of pain to the joint even before the north London derby but had stressed his desire to carry on playing.
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In the aftermath of that demoralising defeat, Arsenal sent him to the warmth of Dubai for a week, where an ankle specialist advised an enforced spell of rest to prevent the damage escalating into a stress fracture.
Goal.com understands that the recommendation was that Wilshere should not play for a period of six to eight weeks, keeping him on the sidelines until at least the end of April.
Publicly, Arsenal have played down the problem, highly sensitive to any accusations that they have mismanaged the fitness of not only their own poster boy but arguably England’s most influential player.
The day before ruling Wilshere out of the second leg of last month’s Champions League tie against Bayern Munich, Arsene Wenger gave mixed messages on Wilshere’s condition, initially claiming that the 21-year-old had an inflamed left ankle before admitting in a second media bulletin that he had problems with both his ankles.
The manager’s first estimate was that Wilshere would be out for three weeks, before changing tack slightly and raising the timeline to “up to four weeks”. Both deadlines have now passed.
During the last international break, Arsenal released a statement to vigorously deny that Wilshere faced a lengthy lay-off, claiming he would be “available for selection for the home game against Reading”. In the event he was not, and nor was he ever likely to figure in the following fixture that took place against West Brom last weekend.
Despite an insistence to the contrary, the principal damage is to Wilshere’s right ankle, and he is believed to have suffered a re-occurrence of the same injury that contributed to him missing 16 months of competitive football.
It is not a debilitating injury, but given his history of ankle trouble, the damage is sufficient to make the management cautious.
There are no plans for the midfielder to undergo a repeat of the surgery he had in September 2011 to repair a fracture to his right ankle, which had first been sustained in a pre-season friendly in July 2011. He later suffered heel and knee injuries and did not play competitive football again until October 27 of last year.
Nevertheless, Arsenal are wary of fast-tracking Wilshere back into the squad and their star player breaking down once again.
Under the supervision of the club’s fitness trainer Declan Lynch, he has begun light running outside away from the first-team group preparing for Saturday’s match against Norwich City at Emirates Stadium.
The latest update from the management is that Wilshere has an “outside chance” of being in the squad this weekend.
Given the length of the player’s lay-off, which, by this weekend, will have risen to six weeks, and his history, it is unrealistic for him to return until he has undertaken significant training with the first-team squad.
Abou Diaby’s knee ligament injury, which has ruled him out for the rest of the year, has left Wenger short of central midfielders but the manager is likely to resist the temptation to rush Wilshere back.
The minimum £25million guaranteed for qualifying for the Champions League is a substantial carrot but Arsenal have won five of their last six matches and have coped well in Wilshere’s absence.
In the club's ideal scenario, he will act as a comfort blanket for the rest of the campaign, to be used only if deemed absolutely necessary. This would allow him time to get into top condition for the start of next season.
The player himself is said to be in good spirits. He attended the Reading match and spent time afterwards in the players’ lounge, where he posed for pictures with supporters and signed merchandise.
Wilshere has recently returned to Twitter following a self-imposed exile but he is a more restrained figure than the one who used to spar publicly with Tottenham fans and offer outspoken observations on various football issues.
He has grown up and learned to be more patient. He has had to.