Kolo Toure hopes Arsenal can maintain their fine form despite losing a number of key players to the African Cup of Nations.
The Gunners will suffer more than most with Emmanuel Eboue and Alexandre Song joining the Ivory Coast centre-half at the tournament in Ghana later this month.
Toure knows it is a crucial stage of the season for Arsene Wenger's men, who currently lead the Premier League, and wants to return after the tournament with the Gunners still challenging.
The likes of Philippe Senderos and Johan Djourou will be vying to fill the void vacated by Toure's absence and he has no qualms about who Wenger may opt for.
"This is an important part of the season for Arsenal and a lot can happen in that time," Toure told the Daily Express.
"But the team is still on top because the squad is really strong and we know all the players will fight and will wait for us to come back.
"And yes, of course when we do come back I still expect them still to be up there at the top and still challenging.
"So the players who come in for me, for Emmanuel, will do their best. They will do a really good job. I am confident about that, definitely."
Toure will depart for Ghana following the conclusion of Sunday's FA Cup third round clash at Championship outfit Burnley.