LONDON (REUTERS) - Arsenal could secure a top-four finish and the chance of Champions League football for the 17th successive season on Saturday without kicking a ball, but coach Arsene Wenger was left ruing what might have been on Friday.
Arsenal will be assured of finishing fourth in the Premier League before their home match against West Bromwich Albion on Sunday if Everton lose at home to title-chasing Manchester City a day earlier.
With two matches left, Arsenal (73 points) are four points ahead of Everton, who would have to win their final two games and hope Arsenal do no better than get one point from their last two to stop Wenger's team finishing ahead of them.
While the chance of another season of Champions League football next season is gratifying, Arsenal fell away in the title race after leading the table, apart from one week over Christmas, from the end of September until mid-January.
"When we came out of Christmas we were in a strong position, and what you want after Christmas is to have your strongest players available for February, March and April," Wenger told reporters on Friday.
"But we had too many injuries. You can have one or two, but 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 form began to waver after they lost 5-1 at Liverpool on Feb 8, the start of a run in which they won only two league games out of nine.
Their last three matches have produced wins over West Ham, FA Cup final opponents Hull City and Newcastle, and barring the unlikely prospect of defeats to lowly West Brom and relegation-threatened Norwich, Arsenal will finish fourth for the third straight season.
Wenger confirmed that England midfielder Jack Wilshere is nearing a return from the ankle injury that threatened his World Cup hopes although he will not be fit to play on Sunday.
They will also be without left-back Kieran Gibbs, while Bacary Sagna, who looks certain to leave Arsenal at the end of the season, is also an injury doubt.