By Chris Harris
They've beaten Everton, Liverpool and Tottenham - do Arsène Wenger's inexperienced side have enough in the tank to deny Chelsea in the Carling Cup Final on Sunday?
The Blues have been firm favourites ever since they booked their place at Cardiff but some of their confidence ebbed away in midweek when John Terry limped off against Porto after suffering his second major injury of the season. Without their defensive kingpin, Jose Mourinho's side will certainly be weaker.
We asked Tim Harrison of the Kensington and Chelsea News for a Chelsea perspective ahead of this weekend's big game at the Millennium Stadium. Read on to find out why Terry's loss is so significant, why Arjen Robben could be a key figure and why Arsenal could upset the odds in Cardiff.
First of all Tim, what did you make of the 1-1 draw at Stamford Bridge in December?
"I thought it was a very enjoyable game. It was probably a bit overhyped, everyone was making out it was the absolute key and crucial fixture of the season. Generally though I thought it was a fairly tight, fairly even game and a fair result. There were a couple of late chances, Drogba went close and Lampard hit the post, but 1-1 was a fair reflection."
How do you expect Chelsea to line up at the Millennium Stadium?
"Actually I'm slightly dreading Sunday after John Terry's injury. He is a critical factor for Chelsea. Michael Essien will be paired with Ricardo Carvalho in the centre of defence and Mourinho might put Geremi at right back - it depends who's guesting in that position this week. I though Diarra did well in the European game in that role but I think he'll go for Geremi. Chelsea's vulnerability will quite obviously be in defence and I think Arsenal have the pace and skill to cause them all sorts of problems and pull them apart."
How competent is Michael Essien at the heart of the
"Essien is a very good stand-in, he looked good at Liverpool even though they lost that game, and he has had several games at the back with Carvalho. For example the Wigan game at Stamford Bridge on January 13 saw them play alongside each other and Chelsea won 4-0. The key thing is having Makelele in front of the defence. He is a key figure, he holds things together and acts like a protective shield for the back four. If Makelele plays there will be some reassurance but there will still be a slight edginess knowing Terry isn't there."
How significant is Terry's enforced absence?
"They were a lot more comfortable when Terry came back from injury and now he's out again there is a risk that confidence will be dented. It can infect even the best players. With Terry it's the reassurance and the knowledge that if he has ever made a howling mistake he was either so young or it was so long ago that no one can remember. It's not that nothing can go wrong with Terry in the side but you have got the best centre half in the country and arguably in Europe when he's fit. Few players are more dependable when it comes to clearing the opposition's set pieces and corners. He is the confidence, the backbone, and without him Chelsea are still strong but lose a lot of confidence. The arrogance they have when he plays is gone."
But on the plus side Chelsea have Petr Cech back in goal after his injury.
"Cech's return is a major boost, he gives the back line confidence almost to the same degree that Terry does. With the best will in the world Hilario is not as good as Cech and there are some doubts over Cudicini too."
Further forward, who do you expect to play off Didier Drogba?
"I'd like to see Robben play, I think the Cardiff pitch and the big stage will suit him down to the ground. He loves going wide and then cutting in, although he's so left-sided that if you watch him in action he always tries to get the ball onto his favoured foot. I'd love to see him play on Sunday because I think he is such an exciting player."
What have you made of Arsenal's young Carling Cup side?
"I haven't seen a lot of Arsenal's Carling Cup run but just as a pack they seem so impressive. Wenger really has a magical touch, he seems to pluck these awesome young talents out of nowhere. Now the impression is that Arsenal could field two or even three stunning teams whereas at the start of the season these names were unknown so Arsenal were accused of lacking strength in depth. Chelsea buy names rather than nurture talent. They have their fabulous new facilities at Cobham and the hope is to get more homegrown players to redress the financial imbalance. When you take away the players who have been bought in by various managers, you're left with John Terry and not many others."
Finally Tim, what's your prediction for Sunday?
"I think we'll see more goals than in the league game. I'll go slightly negatively from my point of view and say 2-1 to Arsenal. It's not just Terry's absence but the fact that this Arsenal team have within themselves right through the Cup run built their own special spirit. I think that will carry them through. Terry's injury will be a blow to Chelsea, not necessarily fatal but I think it will undermine their confidence."
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