LONDON (Reuters) - What was shaping up to be a gripping three-horse Premier League title race heading into Christmas is threatening to become a Manchester City romp to a fourth crown in five seasons.
Pep Guardiola's side opened up an eight-point gap on Wednesday thanks to a 1-0 win nL1N2TE1PS at Brentford and will seek to begin the new year as they ended the old when they go to Arsenal on Saturday seeking an 11th straight league win.
Should that happen they would be 11 points clear of Chelsea and 12 ahead of Liverpool, who have a game in hand, before their two rivals clash at Stamford Bridge on Sunday.
While fourth-placed Arsenal have also been in impressive form with four successive wins, Mikel Arteta's side have fallen short against the big boys this season and were thrashed 5-0 away to City in August.
Guardiola rubbished suggestions that another title was more or less in the bag after the win at Brentford, but the evidence to the contrary is stacking up.
Only five times in the Premier League era has there been a gap of at least eight points at the top heading into Jan. 1 and on each of those occasions the leaders won the title.
In eight of the last 12 seasons the team at the summit at the turn of the year proved uncatchable.
While their rivals have suffered from the COVID-19 surge that meant 16 games were postponed in December, City have even managed to dodge that curve ball, winning all seven games in the final month of the year, scoring 24 goals and conceding five.
Their points tally of 50 is their second-highest after 20 games from their four Premier League title seasons -- behind only the extraordinary 58 they managed in 2017-18.
"The impressive thing is the number of goals they're scoring," Alan Shearer, who won the title with Blackburn Rovers, told Amazon Prime.
"But other than (the 6-3 win over) Leicester on Boxing Day, they are hardly conceding too, which is going to make it really difficult for Chelsea and Liverpool to get back into the race, particularly if you look at City's next two games (Arsenal and Chelsea). If they win those it is pretty much over."
City's irresistible surge means Sunday's clash at Stamford Bridge could all but knock the losers out of the race.
Liverpool are smarting from their 1-0 defeat nL1N2TD1HV at Leicester City on Tuesday while Chelsea conceded a stoppage-time equaliser nL1N2TE1OI to Brighton & Hove Albion on Wednesday.
After three draws in their last four games, Chelsea captain Cesar Azpilicueta said a win over Liverpool would be the perfect way to kick-start the chase of City.
"Hopefully we can give our fans a good start to the new year in front of the fans here against Liverpool," he said. "It is a tough moment, but we need to stick together and dig in.
"It is not an easy situation but this is how we have to overcome these difficult moments."
While City have seized control of the title chase, the top-four race looks like being a season-long battle between Arsenal, West Ham United, Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur.
West Ham, who are fifth, travel to Crystal Palace on Saturday after Tottenham Hotspur, still unbeaten in the league under new manager Antonio Conte, visit struggling Watford.
Manchester United host Wolverhampton Wanderers on Monday.
As the January transfer window opens, all eyes will be on Newcastle United and whether they will flex their new financial muscles in a bid to escape the relegation zone.
They travel to Southampton on Sunday.
(Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Ken Ferris)