Arsenal are heading into one of their most important clashes of the 2015/16 Premier League campaign without one of their most experienced players and number one goalkeeper Petr Cech, but Arsene Wenger is confident that his replacement David Ospina is fully capable of holding the fort and filling in for the Czech Republic international in goal. The Gunners travel to White Hart Lane to take on arch rivals Tottenham Hotspur on Saturday (5 March) and for the first time in the Premier League era the clash between the two north London clubs can be dubbed a title decider.
Mauricio Pochettino's team are three points ahead of third-placed Arsenal in second and the result in the north London derby could have a strong bearing on the title race that culminates in May. Spurs are the team in form, while the Gunners are struggling following back-to-back losses to Manchester United and Swansea City. Moreover, Wenger is facing an injury crisis going into the clash with two of his key performers Petr Cech and Laurent Koscielny ruled out with injury. The Colombia international is set to deputise for the former Chelsea goalkeeper for the next three to four weeks and Wenger believes that he is well prepared for the test ahead.
"I have complete confidence in David and I'm not worried at all on that front. I'm a big admirer of David Ospina and it's a good opportunity for him to show that I'm right," Wenger said, as quoted on Arsenal's official site.
"Yes [on Cech's loss being a blow]. On the other hand if you look at the win rate of Ospina it is very good as well. I'm not worried at all."
"It's hard because the demands are completely different to just sitting on the bench. On the other hand he's fresh because the mental demands on the goalkeepers are high as well."
"I knew before the season that it would be difficult physically for Petr Cech to go through the whole season. That's why I tried to alternate in the Champions League with Ospina. He had games in the Champions League, the League Cup, the FA Cup, so I believe he's prepared," the French coach explained.
Koscielny, meanwhile, has backed his replacement Gabriel Paulista to thrive against Tottenham in his first north London derby. The defender, who has been used sparingly since his arrival from Villarreal last January, has found himself more involved in the latter part of the season. He has partnered the Frenchman and Per Mertesacker, his partner on Saturday, on a few occasions this season.
"[Derbies suit] a defender that is a fighter because they are winners. Gabby wants to win all his duels and help his team win the game," Koscielny said, as quoted on Arsenal's official site.
"It will be his first north London derby, but he will played have played a derby in Spain or Brazil so he knows what it is like and will give himself to win the game. It is more than a year that he has lived in England, and he knows his team-mates better now."
"We are happy with Gabriel, he has done a good job with his pace, determination and he wins his duels. It is very important to have a player like this in your squad. I think he has improved well. He is starting to speak English so this is good. He is more confident on the pitch and outside the pitch," the France international explained.