By Richard Clarke
Suddenly, we have reached the stage where the Premier League might just start to reveal the path it will follow over the next nine months.
Both managers on Saturday at Emirates Stadium - Arsène Wenger of Arsenal and Roberto Di Matteo of Chelsea - will rightly deny the negative significance of a defeat.
And, publicly at least, they would temper the inevitable over-enthusiasm borne from a victory.
But surely, deep down, it would appreciably strengthen the belief that their side can challenge for the title.
Both could do with the boost as neither side were truly involved last season. Arsenal recovered to finish in a creditable third place while Chelsea slipped to sixth in the end. Albeit, Wenger argues, they were preoccupied with two other competitions.
"Yes it was the first time for a long time they dropped out of the top four," said the manager.
"They had a very successful year in the cups and of course a disappointing one in the Premier League but at some stage, when you are in both cups, it can affect your League chances as well.
"Maybe the fact that they went so far in the Champions League had an impact.
"Certainly you expect them to be fighting again to be in the title race this year and that's why the results against your direct opponents are always so important.
"I believe in our potential but we have to show that we are capable to deal with all the kind of problems that consistency demands.
"We'll know more about ourselves, certainly a bit more, on Saturday afternoon - but much more after 10 or 15 games."
Ironically, Wenger's newly-modelled Arsenal side showed the first signs of cohesion in the second half at Stamford Bridge last season when they stormed back to win an eight-goal thriller.
"Yes, of course, the 5-3 had a good psychological impact on our season," said Wenger. "But I knew before the game we were capable to do that."
Both these sides enter this game unbeaten. Arsenal are fifth and Chelsea are top but perhaps Wenger's side have picked up more convincing results in more difficult places. That's why the manager himself described his club as having a ‘feelgood' factor right now.
Conversely, Wojciech Szczesny is still troubled by an ankle problem so Vito Mannone will continue his run as No 1 for a couple more weeks at least. Thomas Vermaelen is back after missing the draw at Manchester City with flu.
The return of the skipper leaves Wenger with a choice to make a centre back. Laurent Koscielny deputised well last week at the Eithad Stadium and struck the leveller late on. However three into two does not go and, as the manager rightly states, Per Mertesacker has been exceptional in recent weeks.
"He has his own [special] qualities, for example his positional play, but we have centre backs where I can mix the formula a little bit and adapt it to the opponent we play against.
"For me all three centre backs are doing well and, even on Wednesday against Coventry, Johan Djourou and Ignasi Miguel were very, very good. At the moment I will just choose the two centre backs who for me are the best suited to face the team we play against."
Chelsea have dropped only two points this season - the goalless draw at QPR. Di Matteo's side are a different flavour to last season's Champions League winners. Certainly in terms of style and, to a less extent, in terms of personnel - with one departure being particularly significant for Arsenal fans - and those centre backs.
"Yes, Didier Drogba killed us at times," admitted Wenger. "But not only us because he was a great striker remember. He was decisive in every round in the Champions League for Chelsea last year.
"But it's a new chance for Fernando Torres now, because when you have Drogba behind you, you're always under pressure. Certainly Torres will enjoy that opportunity. He looks to have found form again and is very mobile. Of course we will have to keep him quiet in a game like this.
"Overall Chelsea have changed their style. They are a team with a bit more caution defensively and I believe we will need to play at a good pace with a good rhythm to win this game and that is what we are prepared to do."
Perhaps this is a battle of who has changed more since the start of last season. Wenger would argue - and the statistics would prove - Arsenal's form has been up there with the top two pretty much since that win at Stamford Bridge 11 months ago.
This term, the additions of Santi Cazorla and Lukas Podolski have just stylishly built upon the platform put in place 12 months ago. Their football is stable, consistent and of the highest quality.
Last Saturday's squeezed-out 1-0 win over Stoke is Chelsea's only win in their last four games in all competitions. While it is dangerous to underestimate the European champions and Premier League leaders, there is a sense that they are still settling down after upheaval during and, at the end of, last season. Even though they have been highly successful during that period.
That said, the Arsenal fans are confident at the moment - and rightly so. In recent weeks, their team have done nothing to dispel the burgeoning belief at Emirates.
And a victory there on Saturday would only see that multiply.
Arsenal: Szczesny (ankle), Fabianski (back), Sagna (leg), Rosicky (tendon)
Chelsea: Lampard (doubt - ankle), Sturridge (hamstring)Copyright 2017 The Arsenal Football Club plc. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.arsenal.com as the source