Neil Humphreys: Arsenal and Liverpool can save boring EPL season
Before Christmas, the idea was preposterous.
Chelsea were flying on the wings of Cesc Fabregas and Diego Costa, Manchester City had beaten Bayern Munich and all was right at the Premier League summit.
But the English season is suddenly regressing faster than Fabregas' assist rate and tumbling towards a tedious finale.
The Blues are plodding, City are imploding and Manchester United are the class clowns with Louis van Gaal playing court jester.
In a matter of weeks, it seems, the wheels are coming off a lethargic campaign.
And, against all expectations, Arsenal and Liverpool are the EPL's best shot at salvation.
Only their men in red can save this season.
Just a cursory glance at this weekend's fixtures reveals the London Derby between Arsenal and West Ham tonight as the standout fixture.
Before an Easter egg has been cracked open, it's already hard to care about games involving either Chelsea or Man City.
Their title race must rank as the most nondescript trudge through the sludge of dull contests in recent memory.
If there was another trophy dash more boring than this one, then spare us the highlights reel.
The monotony isn't helped by Jose Mourinho's infuriating mission to hack away at any remaining affection for his Chelsea side and replace it with ugly gamesmanship.
In their successful bid to get PSG striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic sent off in midweek, the Blues' bullying of the referee couldn't have been any more puerile had they shoved his head down a school toilet.
The alarming dip in form that Fabregas suffered in three consecutive seasons at Barcelona has followed him to Stamford Bridge, leaving Eden Hazard struggling to shoulder all creative responsibilities.
With Costa capable of playing only with steam coming from his nose as he steadies himself for another brutish charge towards defenders, Chelsea's popularity is plummeting. Mourinho's sides are always respected, but rarely loved.
City, on the other hand, have just gone limp.
Apart from Fernandinho and Vincent Kompany in the dressing room, the fight has left the champions. And their captain has left the building, replaced by an error-prone imposter.
Kompany's uncertainty is infectious. The world's richest club are drifting towards irrelevance.
A slave to 4-4-2, Manuel Pellegrini is unlikely to tinker with any other numbers until he negotiates his severance package at the end of the season.
As for his next-door neighbour over at Old Trafford, watching van Gaal's United is like to listening to a gag in Dutch.
You know it's a joke, but it's not particularly funny and no one gets it apart from van Gaal.
So there is a subtle shift in emphasis towards the battle for the "double" - an FA Cup and third spot in the Premier League (which Wenger considers a trophy in itself, bless him).
If the race for third - or even second if City continue to falter - feels like a desperate clutch at straws, consider the state of the table if Arsenal and Liverpool hadn't engineered their upswing in fortunes. Someone would now be administering the last rites.
The reds of north London and Liverpool are keeping this season alive.
Victory against the hapless Hammers would put Arsenal four points clear of the chasing pack and within a point of the flatliners from the Etihad.
Like Brendan Rodgers, Wenger tweaked his formation in favour of a more practical approach last December and it paid dividends, even if it was a happy accident.
In the reverse fixture between the Gunners and the Hammers, Francis Coquelin made his first start of the season in defensive midfield.
He was a stop-gap move as Wenger opted for a more compact approach, content to concede possession.
But Arsenal haven't looked back since.
Rodgers enjoyed similar progress once he added another body in midfield and released Jordan Henderson to support the front three.
As a result, Arsenal and Liverpool are demonstrating a level of consistency beyond Man City and flashes of creative ingenuity beyond Chelsea.
Premier League table appearances can be deceptive. Right now, the top five look upside down.
Arsenal and Liverpool are the only sides that truly excite.
It's the title challengers who seem to be making up the numbers.