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Di Matteo: I'll roll the dice

TWO games down, two games to go. The great Chelsea odyssey of four must-win matches in the space of 10 days is halfway done and, thus far, it has been an overwhelming success.

First Tottenham were dispatched at Wembley, then Barcelona were beaten.

Now the question for Roberto Di Matteo is how far can he push this team in the next five days?

Chelsea face Arsenal at the Emirates tomorrow lunchtime, and it would be fair to say that winning an FA Cup semi-final and beating the best club team in the world gives the away team rather more momentum than that 2-1 home defeat to Wigan Athletic will have given Arsenal.

Arsene Wenger's team have had half the action that Chelsea have seen in the last five days but they have had twice the rest.

In many respects, tomorrow's game has much further reaching consequences for the club's long-term stability than success in the FA Cup, or even beating Barcelona on Wednesday night.

While they are only 90 minutes from a Champions League final, Chelsea's best chance of being in the competition next season is still surely by winning their remaining five league games and pipping Tottenham and Newcastle to fourth place.


It poses some awkward questions for Di Matteo over tomorrow's team. Can he really afford to push Didier Drogba for a third successive 90 minutes after the 34-year-old worked wonders against Spurs and Barca?

Or, look at it another way, can he expect Fernando Torres (pictured left) to be equally effective against Arsenal in a game that Chelsea really need to win?

There is something of the Zen master about Di Matteo, a man who appears to conduct his press conferences in a state of calm reflection. Even he acknowledged on Wednesday night that he could not simply keep asking his core of most experienced players to force through the season's objectives.

Di Matteo said that there was "a good chance that new fresh players come in (against Arsenal)".

"They deserve to be in the team as well. I'm minded to give a few of them a start on Saturday."

The priority when Roman Abramovich appointed Di Matteo "interim first-team coach" on 4 March was always qualification for next season's Champions League.

But then the Chelsea owner did not know that his club would be going into a semi-final second leg with a one-goal lead on the defending champions. It is unthinkable that Drogba will not start at the Nou Camp on Tuesday, given the effect he seems to have on the Barca temperament.


Equally, Ashley Cole -- still carrying an ankle problem -- John Terry, Frank Lampard, Ramires and Juan Mata have all played all, or nearly all, of the 180 minutes against Spurs and Barca.

The likes of Torres, Michael Essien, Florent Malouda and Daniel Sturridge have had to wait their turn. The question for Di Matteo is whether they are good enough to beat an Arsenal team who have won seven of their last nine league games.

Rotating the squad in a congested end-of-season was always going to be a problem. Excluding the possibility of the Champions League final, Chelsea will have to play seven games in 23 days, starting tomorrow.

Ideally, Di Matteo will want to rest tired legs and bring in fresh players. But, as the important games have arrived, he has hit upon a winning team good enough to beat the best there is, and the temptation will be to push them on as far as he can.