By Richard Clarke

The next ten to 14 days will be crucial for the short-term future of Thomas Vermaelen.

The Belgian centre back is close to a return to outdoor training after an Achilles injury and, according to Arsène Wenger, the prevailing mood is positive. However the manager knows he will have to look closely at the 24-year-old in the next few weeks.

Vermaelen has been out since August and is due to return at the end of January, just when the transfer window closes. If the defender is likely to be out much longer than that then Wenger may buy some cover.

“Thomas is just on the fringe of getting back on the pitch again,” said the manager. “The next ten days to two weeks will be an important test for him and hopefully he can get through well. We will see.

“At the moment everyone at the Club looks positive but I will have to make a decision before the end of January."

The rumour mill has already thrown up the name of Gary Cahill as a replacement. The tough-tackling Bolton defender has developed a fine reputation since moving from Aston Villa and won his first England cap in September.

“I wouldn't like to give you a name,” said Wenger when Cahill was mentioned. “But if Thomas doesn't improve we will have to look at [the whole situation].”

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4 Jan 2011