Belgium centre-back Vermaelen – known as the Verminator to the Emirates faithful – looked in grave danger of missing the rest of the season when he left Villa Park on crutches on Wednesday night, following the Gunners’ 0-0 draw with Aston Villa.
But X-rays yesterday revealed the damage to be nowhere near as bad as Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger had initially suggested, and there is even a slim chance Vermaelen could recover in time to face United.
“There is no fracture in Thomas’ leg but his injury still has to be assessed,” said Wenger. “There is still a good chance he will not play on Sunday.”
Striker Eduardo, who also limped off in midweek, faces a week out with a hamstring problem and midfielder Abou Diaby is not ready to return.
But Wenger will have ball-winner Alex Song and wide man Emmanuel Eboue available after they reported back from the Africa Cup of Nations in strong condition.
“Eduardo has a small, small, small hamstring,” Wenger added. “He will be out for one week. He will not make Man United but he might make Chelsea [on 7 February].
“However Emmanuel Eboue and Alex Song have been in this morning. Eboue has been running outside. They are both in good shape – tired, but in good shape. Both of them are available for Sunday.”
Vermaelen’s injury provides an early opportunity for veteran Sol Campbell, and the centre-back is eager to prove Wenger was right to sign him for a second time.
Asked if he was ready to deputise for his stricken colleague, Campbell, 35, said: “Yes. I’ve been training for a long time, so if it comes to it I’ll have to be ready.”