By Chris Harris

Thomas Vermaelen admits he must get a 'pre-season' under his belt before he can be considered for a first-team return.

The Belgian centre back has not played since he suffered an Achilles injury while on international duty last September. Vermaelen eventually recovered from that but is still on the road to recovery after having surgery on separate tendon problem in January.

Arsène Wenger would love to call on the 25-year-old for the Premier League run-in – especially since Johan Djourou dislocated his shoulder - but the manager called time on Vermaelen's season last week and the defender understands why.

"The chances that I will play another game this season are small," he told Belgian newspaper Het Laatste Nieuws. "I can understand my manager when he says that my season is over: I have been out for seven months and I must fulfil a complete 'pre-season', so it's logical that he won’t take risks.

"Time is ticking away and the season finishes in two months. I must first get fit again, then gain rhythm. So I’ve still a long way to go. I can kick a ball as hard as possible, but that's not my problem. I need to run without pain."

Vermaelen is not the first Arsenal player to endure a long spell on the sidelines and he won't be the last. But few have been laid low for so long after being told his injury was relatively minor.

When Vermaelen returned from international duty last September he was tipped for a first-team return within days. When he underwent surgery in January he was expected back after six weeks. But, seven months after the initial problem, the centre back is still waiting.

"After surgery, you soon become impatient," he admitted. "I'm a player they have to slow down - that's my problem. I felt a little pain, but I had something in my head: I’ll cope with it. That’s wasn’t too smart: you can’t beat nature. After a few weeks I personally indicated that I had to slow down. It didn’t feel that comfortable, as it feels these days.

"I always thought I would be out for six weeks [after the surgery]. That was what I was told. So I never could anticipate this long absence. Maybe I would have preferred that I knew from the start."

It has been an unexpectedly long wait for Vermaelen but it is almost over. And the Belgian credits his team-mates for helping him stay positive throughout a frustrating second season with the Club.

"I wanted to stay in the dressing room [during my rehabilitation] to be with my team-mates," he explained. "I had so much support from my friend Robin van Persie for example. Robin is a very helpful guy. He has experience with long injuries and often gave me good advice."

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25 Mar 2011