They should have just about thawed him out by now.

No, not Michael Buble defrosting for his annual, merciless assault on your capacity to maintain some semblance of festive spirit; I am, of course, referring to Erling Haaland, Manchester City's goalscoring juggernaut. By virtue of Norway failing to qualify for the World Cup, the man who has motored his way to 18 goals in only 13 Premier League appearances was rewarded for those exploits with a month off to rest and recharge in the middle of the season. It hardly seems fair, does it?

The reigning champions do not need much of a leg-up in their quest for another title, but in a modern game where players are pushed to their physical limits and beyond by an increasingly ludicrous schedule, this is about as perfect a Christmas gift as Pep Guardiola could possibly have hoped for.

On paper, too, it's bad news for league leaders Arsenal. Five points clear of City at the summit, they are about to embark on the most important few months in their recent history and, indeed, that of the Premier League itself. Obscene broadcasting contracts and unscrupulous billionaire owners notwithstanding, England's top-flight has built an empire off the back of convincing the rest of us that it is the "best league in the world". The criteria for claiming such a title has, oddly, never been made clear, but it's one the Premier League has managed to push with eye-watering levels of success. Other European leagues, such as the Bundesliga, Ligue 1 and, for a time, Serie A, have been roundly dismissed as one horse races, shudderingly predictable affairs compared to the romantic idea that the Premier League could be anybody's; that the standard of teams throughout the division made it the hardest title to win.

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Leicester City's odds-defying 2015/16 success did little to dispel this notion, but its grounding in reality has begun to slip away in recent years, one petro-state dollar at a time. Should Manchester City overthrow Arsenal at the top over these next few months, and they remain odds-on favourites to do so, it will be to claim their fifth title in six years. Not exactly the calling card of the best league in the world, is it? True, Manchester United enjoyed similar periods of dominance in the 1990s and 2000s, but they did not do so backed by a sportwashing project with the ability to financially crush any and all competitors. Liverpool's remarkable consistency in pushing City all the way, and more, in recent seasons has perpetuated an illusion of competitiveness at the top end of the Premier League which is now threatening to fade away.

Such has been the strain of trying to keep pace with City, Liverpool's owners are looking to pack up and move on, effectively conceding that they cannot compete with their rivals' monetary might long term. It makes Arsenal's position at the top as we head into 2023 all the more intriguing. Nobody is denying the Gunners, too, have spent money to get to where they are, but they have taken a very un-Premier League route to their current position as, apparently, genuine title contenders. It wasn't so long ago manager Mikel Arteta was clinging to his job, a dramatic collapse at the tail end of last season ensuring the club once again missed out on the Champions League. The Spaniard recently celebrated his third anniversary in charge, and with only an FA Cup and some unsuccessful cracks at winning the Europa League to show for it, you could argue he was fortunate to still be in situ at the start of this season. That's not necessarily a personal opinion of mine, more a recognition that managers at the very top end in England usually do not survive so long with such a track record, and in the face of a support prone to turning decidedly toxic when their patience runs out, as Arsene Wenger can surely attest.

But credit to Arsenal, they've decided to play the long game, given Arteta the remit to make big, potentially unpopular decisions in getting rid of club captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, and backed him to the hilt after he did so, even when it would have been easier to simply get rid and start again. We are now about to find out if they have what it takes to hold City, Guardiola and, crucially, Haaland, at bay. For the sake of their carefully crafted image, the Premier League should probably hope that they can when their campaign recommences against West Ham on Boxing Day. Should another title be delivered to the Etihad come May, it becomes increasingly difficult to deny the emergence of a particularly dispiriting monopoly.

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The Premier League has been flirting with such an eventuality from the moment Roman Abramovich was ushered through the doors of Stamford Bridge in June 2003; its USP as the world's most competitive domestic competition has always been at odds with a reluctance to properly regulate the influx of extreme wealth into the game. Mind you, there's no Robin Hood tale to be had if Arsenal do go all the way, given they're owned by American tycoon Stan Kroenke and his own £10bn fortune, so you'd be forgiven for not really caring how this turns out. But, at the moment, they're the only hope of stopping the Premier League's descent into the one-horse race that fans south of the border have relentlessly mocked in other nations.

And that, for the "best league in the world", is a bit of a problem.