LONDON: As 2016 dawns, Premier League front-runners Arsenal go in search of evidence that they are capable of striking out on their own in pursuit of a first title since 2004.
With Manchester United and Chelsea toiling, Liverpool rebuilding under Jurgen Klopp and Manchester City damagingly porous, Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger appears to have reached a decisive juncture in his 19-year tenure.
His team have been top on New Year's Day three times in the last 14 years, only to see their title hopes fade on each occasion, but Wenger feels that the current crop have what it takes to go the distance.
"I believe that we are mature enough and that we have the requested quality to fight and compete," he said ahead of Saturday's home game with third-bottom Newcastle United.
"The most important thing is to feel, at the end of the season, that we have given absolutely everything to be successful. It is not the date (New Year's Day) that is decided you win the league. It shows you that we have a good chance as the statistics show you that eight of the past 11 years, the team who was top on New Year's Day won it."
Arsenal continue to nurse frailties of their own, as shown by their 4-0 Boxing Day drubbing at Southampton, but Monday's 2-0 win over Bournemouth was enough to take them top of the table on goal difference after former leaders Leicester City could only draw 0-0 with Manchester City.
Leicester lost 1-0 at Liverpool prior to Tuesday's goalless stalemate with City, but manager Claudio Ranieri says that his players are determined not to let their early-season momentum peter out.
"We've had a fantastic half-season, it's unbelievable what we are doing and we must continue," said the Italian, whose team welcome Bournemouth to the King Power Stadium on Saturday.
"We will fight right until the end and we want to win. If we give 100 percent, then we accept every result."
Manchester City, three points off the pace in third place, continue to oscillate between the sublime and the ridiculous and have gone 10 league games without recording back-to-back victories.