London – Arsene Wenger claims he will look back on the season as a missed opportunity even if Arsenal clinch a place in the Champions League this weekend.
Wenger's side can guarantee their participation in Europe's elite club competition for the 17th successive year with a victory over West Bromwich Albion on Sunday.
They won't even need to win their final home game of the season if fifth placed Everton lose against title-chasing Manchester City on Saturday – a result which would end the Toffees' hopes of finishing fourth.
With silverware proving elusive to Arsenal for most of the last decade, maintaining a Champions League presence has become a cause for celebration for Wenger.
And, with a chance to finally end the club's nine-year trophy drought coming shortly in the FA Cup final against Hull on May 17, it would have been no surprise if Wenger was in buoyant mood during his weekly press conference on Friday.
But instead the Arsenal manager was in reflective mood as he contemplated his team's failure to seize a golden opportunity to win the Premier League for the first time since 2004.
The north Londoners led the table and looked genuine title contenders before fading badly in the new year.
“When we came out of Christmas, we were in a strong position and what you want then is to have your strong players available in March and April, but we had too many injuries,” said Wenger, who lost the likes of Aaron Ramsey, Theo Walcott and Jack Wilshere for long periods this term.
“It is very difficult. You can have one or two, but after that when you have too many injuries you always have to play the same players and that is detrimental to the efficiency of the group.
“The regret we have is that too many players were out at the same time between Christmas and April.”
Arsenal's dismal record in away games against their title rivals Ä they were thrashed at Manchester City, Chelsea and Liverpool Ä
is widely regarded as the key to their unsuccessful title bid.
But Wenger suggested their failure to beat Aston Villa, Everton and Swansea at home was just as damaging.
“The restriction we had was when we only made draws and not wins, that is where the missing points are at the moment because we are very close to the top,” Wenger said.
“Maybe one or two wins at home would have made that difference.
“The regret we have is that we have been remarkably consistent but against some teams who did not fight for the Premier League title we could not claim the points.”
Wenger's team have been back to their best since Ramsey's return from injury Ä reeling off three successive victories to overhaul Everton in the top-four race.
And Wenger is determined to finish with two more wins in case either City or Chelsea slip-up, which would give the Gunners a chance to secure third place, thus avoiding a play-off to qualify for the Champions League group stages next season.
“For us it is to finish as close as possible to the top and to win our remaining games,” Wenger added.
Albion are not yet completely certain of avoiding relegation, but their four-point lead over third bottom Norwich, who have played a game more than the Baggies, should be enough to eventually preserve their top-flight status.
Boss Pepe Mel seems confident enough and the former Real Betis chief is already planning his transfer targets, which include Arsenal winger Joel Campbell, who is currently on loan at Olympiakos.
“Joel Campbell was a player with me at Betis, a very good player and it is possible for the future at West Brom. He could play here if I stay here,” said Mel.
“The most important thing now is the next three matches. We need one more point to be sure.” – Sapa-AFP