Arsene Wenger concedes Arsenal passed up an excellent chance to end their Premier League title wait as they prepare to conclude a season without a major trophy at home to Aston Villa.
The Gunners have not been crowned champions since their remarkable unbeaten campaign in 2003-04, with huge underdogs Leicester City claiming the honour this season.
Perhaps more galling for the Emirates Stadium faithful is the prospect of finishing behind bitter rivals Tottenham – who travel to Newcastle United on Sunday – for the first time under Wenger’s charge.
The Frenchman has been deflated by the club’s failure to land the big prize, but believes several other clubs will feel the same as the 2015-16 top-flight season draws to a close this weekend.
“It was a strange season,” said Wenger, who dismissed reports he was set to sign a two-year contract extension.
“We’ve finished the season disappointed because we felt we had the chance to win the championship. Of course we are frustrated, but Leicester have had consistent results and the rest of the division have had ups and downs.
“Is it down to the fact that Leicester were a surprise package? Is it down to the fact that they only played one competition? Certainly there’s some explanation there, but if you only analyse the technical numbers, there’s no rationale.
“That’s why you have to say they have been absolutely remarkable and you have to congratulate them.
“It’s a missed opportunity, but it’s a missed opportunity for everybody. If you look at the predictions for the start of the season, Chelsea were first and Manchester City were second. Other people can feel missed opportunities too. In the predictions, people can say they were wrong.”
The 66-year-old revealed Jack Wilshere – recently back from a broken leg – is ready to start, but may be named on the bench again, as he was in the 2-2 draw against Manchester City.
He came on to replace fellow England international Danny Welbeck, who suffered a knee injury that is set to keep him sidelined for up to nine months.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (knee) will miss out, but Mesut Ozil (thigh) is back in training.
Villa will bring the curtain down on an abysmal campaign that has cost them their top-flight status for the first time in almost 30 years.
They have not won since February and lost 2-0 to Arsenal in December’s reverse fixture, making it nine defeats from the last 11 meetings with the Gunners.
The match is likely to provide a last outing for numerous Villa players, with the club seeking a fresh start in the Championship next term.
Key Opta Facts:
– Arsenal have scored 14 goals without reply in the last four meetings in all competitions with Aston Villa.
– Olivier Giroud has scored in each of his last five appearances against Villa in all competitions.
– Villa have scored just seven goals in their last 14 Premier League road trips.
– Arsenal have now secured a top-four finish for 20 consecutive top-flight seasons.
– Petr Cech has conceded more goals from outside the box than any other goalkeeper this season (10).