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Hot Gunners certain to be on fire - Jose.

Byline: By HARRY NOBLE

JOSE Mourinho admits he is unsure of just which Arsenal line-up his Chelsea side will face in the Carling Cup final today - but knows full well what challenge to expect at the Millennium Stadium.

Gunners manager Arsene Wenger is again set to use a delicate blend of youth and big-match experience in Cardiff, a policy that served them well earlier in the competition with impressive victories over Everton, Liverpool and archrivals Tottenham.

Chelsea may be without influential skipper John Terry because of an ankle injury, but they will still provide the sternest test yet for Wenger's rotation policy.

Mourinho maintains that, while the men filling the red shirts may change today, their approach will be just the same.

"It is quite difficult to know what Arsenal's team every week is because they have such a big and good squad," said the Chelsea manager.

"They make changes and it is difficult to say who is their first choice.

"Normally, they change players but keep their philosophy, their idea of football, their system.

"So I do not think they are going to make a crazy change for the final.

"Normally they will keep their philosophy. We have to be ready for that."

The Carling Cup was the first trophy Mourinho won with Chelsea two years ago.

He said: "We enjoyed doing it.

"A final is always a big atmosphere - a great day for the fans - and when you play these games you think about what kind of final it is."

Mourinho rejects the notion that the competition has been devalued.

"Silverware is silverware," said the man who guided Porto to Champions League glory in 2004, and has steered Chelsea to successive Barclays Premiership titles.

"It doesn't matter if you win it for the first time or 10 times before - the feeling is always a good one.

"Every player wants to play and every manager wants to be there.

"Since I have been here the first one was Chelsea versus Liverpool and this one is Chelsea against Arsenal.

"It is very good for the competition when the big teams want to win and arrive in the final."

Mourinho added: "The motivation is there. It is the kind of game I do not need to motivate myself.

"It is a great moment. The problem is when you play small matches against small opponents. Big teams and big matches - it is easy to prepare."

Ukraine striker Andriy Shevchenko looks set to feature in his first English showpiece final.

Mourinho has been more than happy to see the pounds 30 million man come good following a difficult spell.

"He is playing the way his team-mates want him to play," said the Chelsea boss. "He has earned my respect and he has the respect of his team-mates. "He is having his best moment since he arrived at the club.

"We are more than pleased - we are delighted with what he is doing for us."

Meanwhile, Arsenal defender William Gallas believes he should play in today's final. Showpiece The 29-year-old Frenchman is set to be left out against his former club as manager Arsene Wenger sticks with the youngsters who won their way through to the Millennium Stadium showpiece.

But, after recent injury problems, Gallas insists he should feature from the start.

"I want to be in the starting 11," he said. "Not because we are playing Chelsea but because I'm suffering from a lack of playing time after three months out.

"It strikes me as natural I should play in this game, so I can return to peak form. But the decision is up to the manager.

"I see it as a chance to get back the rhythm I lack."

Gallas does, however, admit that the experience of playing in such a big game can only benefit the young Gunners who look set to play a major role in the club's future.

He added: "I think it is a good idea of the manager to give the youngsters their chance. It is a good thing for them to get to play in a final.

"It will allow them to learn about the pressure of such big events."

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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England)
Date:Feb 25, 2007
Words:699
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