Arsenal's three-month stay atop the English Premier League will end on Monday if they lose to title rivals Chelsea in one of the biggest matches of the season so far.
After dropping five points in their last two league games, Arsenal are within range of three teams - Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester City - heading into the first of four rounds of matches in quick succession over English football's traditionally busy festive period.
Second-place Liverpool host Cardiff tomorrow and will move provisionally top for two days with a win at Anfield. Fourth-place City travel to Fulham.
CHRISTMAS NO. 1
By kick-off on Monday, Arsenal will have had eight days to get over the humiliation of losing 6-3 at Man City - a result critics seized on as evidence that Arsene Wenger's side isn't ready to challenge for the title.
That came after a 2-0 loss at Napoli, which almost eliminated Arsenal from the Champions League, and a 1-1 home draw against Everton.
The tough run of opponents eases somewhat after the Chelsea match, so staying top of the league by Christmas Day with a win at Emirates Stadium should see confidence returning among Arsenal's players.
Both teams face a punishing schedule of four league games in a 10-day span, starting on Monday.
COVERING FOR AGUERO
City's prolific form of late will be tested over the festive period as top scorer Sergio Aguero will be missing until the middle of January, at the earliest, because of a right calf injury.
The Argentina striker's potent partnership with Alvaro Negredo has been key to the string of impressive results in recent months that have put the team back within sight of Arsenal.
In Aguero's absence, City manager Manuel Pellegrini must decide whether to play an extra attacking midfielder or pair Negredo with Edin Dzeko, who started the midweek League Cup win over Leicester and scored two goals.
"Sergio has had an amazing season, scoring a lot of goals, and he is an important player for us," Dzeko said after the 3-1 victory. "This (injury) is very bad for the team, but there are a lot of players who want to play."
Fulham has conceded at least two goals in eight of its last nine games in all competitions and is second from bottom.
Five Premier League managers have lost their jobs so far this season, and it wouldn't be a surprise if Cardiff's Malky Mackay became the sixth.
Not because of results - Cardiff are four points above the bottom three and having a solid season in its first year back in the top division - but because it seems Mackay is being increasingly provoked by Malaysian owner Vincent Tan.
First of all, Tan removed Iain Moody, Cardiff's head of recruitment and a close ally of Mackay, in October and replaced him with a 23-year-old friend of Tan's son who had no previous football experience.
Then, on Monday, Tan publicly criticised Malkay for saying he ideally would like to sign three players in the January transfer window, accusing the manager of putting pressure on the club's board by raising fans' expectations.
Mackay said he is "really calm" about the situation and other managers are backing him.
"My only conclusion is you have a business guy (Tan) operating the club who knows absolutely nothing about football," Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers said yesterday ahead of Saturday's match against Cardiff.
SUAREZ, SUAREZ, SUAREZ
At his pre-match news conference yesterday, Rodgers raised a glass and gave a toast to the assembled journalists, wishing them a happy Christmas "and for no Luis Suarez questions."