The sieve of the Premier League's tail end of the season has finally taken the long-awaited bump we've all anticipated, sifting the top four into the most likely of orders, if experience is to be the measuring stick.
Manchester United's cream rises to the top, and the discussion is no longer whether the Red Devils can overtake Arsenal (that became clear weeks ago when the North London side seemed to echo the frustrating ineffectiveness in front of goal that cursed them throughout last season), but who will step up to challenge a seemingly unassailable team.
Sir Alex's team have done nothing different than last year, save for an inglorious departure from the eternal grail of the treble to Portsmouth in the FA Cup. It is more Arsenal's fine start to the campaign that made this a race, and now that the lack of depth and experience has shifted this advantage north from London to Manchester, the lever of pressure has been passed within London to a headless team of mercenaries in Chelsea.
Neutrals bought into the dream of a young side of technical experts, imbued with verve and a love of one-two, on the carpet passing. Jose Mourinho's provocative charisma overshadowed Chelsea's sometimes lack of creativity, despite winning successive trophies and racking up an unheard of unbeaten streak at Stamford Bridge. And Sir Alex Ferguson's infallible rotation, at least when it came to winning what mattered, facilitated a modern definition of "bounce-backability".
Looking back, Arsene Wenger's adherence to his belief that a tight, gifted group of youngsters growing up as a team can produce beautiful football may seem ruefully narrow-minded. He might be right, just a bit early as he was in calling for an unbeaten season prematurely, but the Arsenal fan's insistence that "Wenger knows" has officially taken a beating, as another trophy-less season seems imminent.
Arsenal's victory over stagnant European champions Milan overshadowed the squad's weaknesses, despite such impotency in the league. As confidence can be razed just as quickly as it can be built from an injury time goal, the Gunners' current results shouldn't be surprising. Until this team, as wonderfully youthful and frustratingly naive it can be at times, learns how to win ugly and get up for those games that don't get the blood racing (Birmingham City and Middlesbrough to name a few, where putting eleven behind the ball isn't being defensive, it's survival), Arsenal will remain just another pretty face with potential.
Wenger rues 'big setback' in race for title [Guardian Football]