Stick or twist? How, and when, can Di Matteo shuffle his tiring pack?

Italian has given Chelsea great momentum but he must rest players in their next must-win game, at Arsenal. Who? By Sam Wallace

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Two games down, two games to go. The great Chelsea odyssey of four must-win matches in 10 days is halfway done and, thus far, done well. First Tottenham at Wembley, then Barcelona in midweek. Now the question for Roberto Di Matteo is how far he can push this team in the next five days.

Chelsea travel to the Emirates tomorrow lunchtime, with rather more momentum than that 2-1 home defeat by Wigan will have given Arsenal. The Gunners have had half the action Chelsea have seen since the weekend – but twice the rest.

In many respects, this game has more bearing on Chelsea's long-term stability than success in the FA Cup or even beating the best club team in the world on Wednesday night. Chelsea's best chance of being in the Champions League next season is still surely by winning their last five league games and pipping Spurs 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's wonders this week? Or look at it another way, can he expect Fernando Torres 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 battle on.

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 had to leave a few out [against Barça], not because they deserved it but because I have to make decisions. 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 Champions League qualification. But it is unthinkable that Drogba will not start at the Nou Camp in Tuesday's second leg given the effect he seems to have on the Barça 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 Barça. The likes of Torres, Michael Essien, Florent Malouda and Daniel Sturridge have had to wait their turn. The question for Di Matteo is simply: are they good enough to beat an Arsenal team with seven wins in nine games?