By Wayne Veysey | Chief Correspondent
Jack Wilshere has been ruled out for six more weeks in a savage blow to Arsenal's top-four hopes, Goal.com can reveal.
The midfielder is facing an uphill battle to play again this season after his ankle injury was assessed by a specialist in Dubai last week and, then, again when he returned to the club.
Goal.com understands that Wilshere has been told he needs an enforced spell of rest that will keep him on the sidelines for a minimum of six more weeks, until at least the start of May.
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Although there is a slim possibility that he could return for the last three Premier League fixtures and the end-of-season internationals, privately Arsenal do not expect their most influential player to feature again for club or country this season.
Arsene Wenger gave mixed messages on Wilshere’s condition last week, 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.
Despite Wenger publicly playing down the problem, it is understood that the principal damage is to Wilshere’s right ankle, and that he is suffering a recurrence of the same injury that contributed to him missing 16 months of competitive football.
There are no plans at this stage 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 two months earlier. He later suffered heel and knee injuries and did not play competitive football again until October 27 of last year.
Wilshere sustained the latest injury to his right ankle against Tottenham in the north London derby 15 days ago and was sent to the warmth of Dubai for a week to rest.
The manager said England and Arsenal’s talisman had been withdrawn from action on the orders of a specialist amid fears he could suffer a stress fracture if he carried on playing.
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Speaking as he ruled Wilshere out for up to four weeks ahead of the Champions League clash at Bayern Munich last week, Wenger said: “Maybe I overplayed him, but only in the last two games. It's difficult to rest him because he's a winner and when I ask how he feels, he says ‘perfect’. We do a regular scan and it showed bone bruising on the heel of his right foot.
“He had some inflammation where he had the surgery and he has been compensating to protect his left ankle. Every month he has scans on both ankles, but he feels no pain.
“The last time we let him carry on and it turned into a stress fracture, which is why the specialist said we cannot take this gamble.”
Fears that Wilshere had suffered serious damage have been realised following the latest medical assessment and the player is not expected to feature in the forthcoming league fixtures against Reading, West Brom, Norwich, Everton, Fulham and Manchester United.
Publicly, Arsenal are sticking by the timeframe outlined by Wenger last week. "We stand by what the manager said and that Jack is expected to be out for three to four weeks," a spokesman told Goal.com on Monday.
The club's top-four hopes remain on a knife-edge, despite a weekend in which their win at Swansea City and Tottenham's defeat to Fulham helped them narrow the gap on their north London rivals to four points with a game in hand.
Wilshere could be rushed back for the final matches of the campaign against QPR, Wigan Athletic and Newcastle United but that is believed to be unlikely at this stage.
Furthermore, there is little prospect of Wilshere being made available for England’s end-of-season friendlies. Roy Hodgson’s team play the Republic of Ireland at Wembley on May 29 before a glamour friendly in Brazil on June 2.