Arsene Wenger has seen some things in his 20-plus years patrolling the technical area for Arsenal. Injuries happen all the time in football, of course, but the 68-year-old French manager says that the Achilles/heel injury to Gunners midfielder Santi Cazorla is “the worst injury I’ve known.”

Cazorla hasn’t set foot on the pitch since limping off with an apparent ankle injury during a Champions League tilt with Ludogorets in October of 2016. After the sore Achilles did not respond to rehabilitation treatment, Cazorla was forced to undergo surgery. He has since had to undergo eight operations on the ankle, which wound up contracting gangrene. There were fears that the gangrene infection could lead to amputation of the Spaniard’s foot, but, fortunately, that wasn’t the case.

Cazorla is still rehabbing the injury, and, amazingly, he is expecting to return to the pitch sometime next year.

While bettors are eagerly placing strategic bets ahead of Saturday’s North London derby between Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur, Wenger and the rest of his coaching staff are making last-minute preparations ahead of the huge Premier League tilt. Still, Wenger took time to address the effect Cazorla’s awful injury has had on the veteran manager.

When asked about Cazorla’s long road to recovery, Wenger said, “It is the worst injury I have known. Starting with a pain in the Achilles, and it was gone from worse to worse.”

“I know how much Santi Cazorla loves to play football and loves to be out there every day and I feel really sorry for what happened to him because it is unbelievable.”

In an interview earlier this month, Cazorla revealed that doctors at one point told him that he may never be able to walk again due to the issue. The gangrene infection ate away at the tendon in Cazorla’s heel, and it necessitated a skin graft using skin from the player’s forearm.

While Cazorla has aspirations to play competitive football again in the near future, Wenger admitted that he is not so confident himself.

“Last time I saw him was one month ago. He came here, and I told him to prepare as well as he can. He has competent medical people around him and he tries to practice. I have not spoken to him recently but I hope he comes back.”

Wenger said that he was hopeful that the player would be healthy enough to play by January 2018, but that there is no actual timetable for Cazorla’s return to competitive play.

“I left him out of the squad, hoping he would be available in January. That was my target at the start.”

Despite the devastating injury, Arsenal agreed to a one-year contract extension with Cazorla last summer. The deal expires next summer, which leaves Cazorla’s future with Arsenal in doubt. When asked about the idea that Cazorla may have played his last game in a Gunners shirt, Wenger said, “Let’s not talk about that, but I hope you are wrong.”

Cazorla, 32, joined Arsenal on a long-term deal worth £10 million in the summer of 2012. He has scored 25 goals in 129 appearances for the club to this point.