LONDON - Arsenal's three-month stay atop the English Premier League will end on Monday if the Gunners lose to title rivals Chelsea in one of the biggest matches of the season so far.
After dropping five points in the past 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-placed Liverpool host Cardiff on Saturday and will move provisionally top for two days with a win at Anfield. Fourth-placed City travel to Fulham.
By kickoff 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 men aren'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 will 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.
City's prolific form of late will be tested as top scorer Sergio Aguero will be missing until the middle of January, at the earliest, because of a right calf injury.
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.
Fulham have conceded at least two goals in eight of the past nine games in all competitions and sit second from bottom.