Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger should know that the David Ospina gamble is not worth the risk in EFL Cup final

Stick or twist? Will Ospina or Cech start in goal on Sunday: David Price/Arsenal FC via Getty Images

There is less to separate Petr Cech and David Ospina these days yet it is still a gamble for Arsene Wenger to choose his second-choice keeper against Manchester City this weekend.

By his own admission, a few errors may have crept into Cech’s game of late but he remains one of Arsenal’s most reliable performers.

Sunday’s EFL Cup Final has assumed considerable importance for the Gunners and especially Wenger, who knows another piece of silverware strengthens his argument in the debate over the Frenchman’s ongoing worth as manager.

It would also galvanise Arsenal for their principal challenge of returning to the Champions League, either by overcoming a troubling deficit to the top four or by winning the Europa League.

Whatever psychological damage Wigan inflicted in upsetting the FA Cup odds against City on Monday night, the Gunners will have little margin for error against a Pep Guardiola side now presented with an opportunity to reflect their much-lauded football in trophy-cabinet returns.

Keepers are usually pretty busy against City. They have scored 111 goals this season and only three teams have kept a clean sheet against them - Wigan, Crystal Palace and Wolves.

Cech single-handedly kept Tottenham at bay as they threatened to run riot this month and he remains more reliable than Ospina, who has twice sought to leave the club only to be convinced to stay with the promise of a genuine fight between the two, supplemented by regular cup competition action.

Upholding that agreement this week would be another reminder of the honourable principles which make Wenger both admirable and infuriating. Ospina will almost certainly leave this summer and while he is a capable deputy, any sentimentality will fall on deaf ears - Arsenal must begin identifying Cech’s long-term successor this summer in any case.

Photo: Arsenal FC via Getty Images

In that context, it was an odd decision to give Ospina the captaincy against Ostersund in last week’s Europa League tie.

Wenger should need no reminder of the fine margins that decide these finals. Arsenal’s last League Cup trip to Wembley in 2011 saw his team collapse to an unfancied Birmingham side courtesy of a mix-up between goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny and Laurent Koscielny, allowing Obafemi Martins to pounce.

​Szczesny had started that season as Manuel Almunia’s understudy but took his place when the latter suffered an ankle injury at the beginning of 2011. Almunia was on the bench for the final. Birmingham goalkeeper Ben Foster was named man of the match.

Wenger was not fearful of subsequent rotation. Lukasz Fabianski played only 10 games in the 2013-14 season, with his solitary League outing coming at Norwich on the final day, by way of preparation for the FA Cup Final. He saved two penalties in the semi-final shootout and helped Arsenal end a nine-year trophy drought with a final success against Hull.

A year later, Szczesny was dropped after a New Year’s Day defeat to Southampton in favour of Ospina. He only played in the FA Cup for the rest of that season, including the final against Aston Villa.

And last season, Ospina played just one League game and was injured for the FA Cup quarter-final and semi-final but replaced Cech for the final win against Chelsea.

However, the risk in not playing Cech still feels greater than the benefit of opting for Ospina, who hasn’t started a League game all season.

The same situation could arise should Arsenal reach the Europa League Final. With everything on the line, the clamour to play Cech will be huge. Why should this be any different?

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