LONDON (Reuters) - Arsenal hope the return of Welsh midfielder Aaron Ramsey will spark their faltering campaign as they prepare for Sunday's trip to Everton, a potentially vital clash in the battle for a top-four finish.
Ramsey was in sparkling form for the Gunners before suffering a thigh injury in December, having scored 13 goals in 27 appearances and spearheading his side's title challenge.
With hopes of a first Premier League crown since 2004 now a fading dream, Arsenal are in a fight to ensure a top-four finish and another appearance in the Champions League.
They are fourth with 64 points, four ahead of Everton but having played a game more, and have picked up only two points from their past three matches, a run that included an embarrassing 6-0 loss to Chelsea in manager Arsene Wenger's 1000th match in charge.
After more than three months on the sidelines Ramsey, 23, returns to the Arsenal squad at a vital time, a welcome boost for a midfield suffering through the absence of Jack Wilshere and record-signing Mesut Ozil, even if Wenger warned against expecting too much in his first match back.
"(When you're out for) three months, then it takes two or three weeks," the Frenchman told a news conference on Friday.
"He has worked very hard for a while in training now. What he lacks is competition.
"He's an all round midfielder who can score goals and always drives the team forward. He's a real box-to-box player so it's good to have him back.
"It's an area where we are short because we have many midfielders out. We have Wilshere and Ozil out in this area, so of course it's good to have him back."
Arsenal won the last match between the pair, a 4-1 FA Cup victory, and acknowledged the importance of Sunday's game to both their top-four ambitions.
"It's an opportunity to go forward and as well an opportunity to make a distance with Everton," he said.
"As I told you after the last game against Man City, we look in front of us and behind us as well. That's what the game is about on Sunday.
"Everton are a good side, that's why they are where they are. I think in the first game (a 1-1 draw) we were caught just at the end. In the second game we won 4-1 and scored two late goals, so they were two interesting games. I think it will again be very interesting on Sunday.
"For us it's very difficult to imagine the impact it will have on finishing fourth, but it's a game we want to win. Everton have won against Swansea in the last minute and they have a never-give-up attitude, which gives them credit."
Left back Nacho Monreal is also back in the squad, while Wilshere, Ozil and centre back Laurent Koscielny remain out through injury.