The Premier League title race is almost a quarter of the way through, with Arsenal the surprise early leaders in a season that faces the unprecedented disruption of a six-week shutdown due to the staging of the 2022 FIFA World Cup in November and December.

Mikel Arteta's team are top of the table with eight wins from nine games, a point clear of champions Manchester City who are attempting to become only the second club, after Manchester United, to win three successive Premier League titles.

At the other end of the scale, Liverpool are languishing in 10th position, 14 points behind Arsenal, and on the brink of a crisis if they lose for the third time this season, at home to City on Sunday.

Antonio Conte's Tottenham Hotspur are well-placed in third position, while Chelsea and United are both in touch with the top four despite displaying inconsistency under new managers and having played a game fewer than the teams above them due to the postponements following the death of Queen Elizabeth II.

Pep Guardiola's City remain the favourites to end the season as champions, but can Arsenal go all the way? Will Liverpool recover or miss out on the top four altogether?

It's still early, but how will it shape up for the Big Six in the months ahead?

ARSENAL

 

How it started

Having missed out on Champions League qualification following a late-season collapse, including a 3-0 defeat at Tottenham, Arsenal invested almost £120 million in new signings this summer including Manchester City pair Gabriel Jesus and Oleksandr Zinchenko. The target was a top-four finish for the first time since 2015-16.

 

How it's going

Arsenal are flying under Arteta, with the only dropped points so far coming in a 3-1 defeat at Manchester United in September. The signings of Zinchenko, Jesus and Fabio Vieira have added proven quality and experience to the squad, while the form of William Saliba at centre-back has prompted comparisons of the French defender to Liverpool's Virgil van Dijk. Bukayo Saka, Martin Odegaard and Gabriel Martinelli have all taken their game to a new level. With the home match against Man City on Oct. 19 postponed in order to play the rearranged Europa League clash with PSV Eindhoven a day later, Arsenal have a comfortable run of fixtures until they visit Chelsea on Nov. 6, so they could reach the pre-World Cup shutdown on Nov. 12 with top spot still in their grasp.

 

How will it end?

Arsenal are riding a wave of confidence and momentum right now, so the World Cup is likely to be a huge inconvenience for Arteta's squad. With such a lengthy shutdown, can the Gunners pick up from where they left off when the season resumes on Dec. 26?

But while Arsenal's inexperience in a title race could count against them, especially with City hunting them down, Leicester proved in 2015-16 that an outsider can go all the way if they are fortunate with injuries and the top players maintain their form. An Arsenal title still seems a long shot, but a top-four finish should be achieved and, if City slip up, Arteta's team could take advantage if the World Cup doesn't prove too damaging to their collective focus.

MANCHESTER CITY

How it started

 

City won the race to sign Erling Haaland from Borussia Dortmund and also bolstered Pep Guardiola's squad with the additions of Kalvin Phillips, Julian Alvarez and Manuel Akanji. The departures of Raheem Sterling (to Chelsea), Gabriel Jesus and Oleksandr Zinchenko (both Arsenal) and Fernandinho (Athletico Paranaense) diminished the experience levels at the Etihad, but City re-shaped their squad from a position of strength.

 

How it's going

It is only Arsenal's incredible start that is keeping City off top spot, with the champions still unbeaten with seven wins and two draws from nine games so far. Haaland is on course to smash a series of goal-scoring records, having already delivered 20 goals in 13 games in a City shirt. The Norway forward has unquestionably ended the club's search for a long-term successor to Sergio Aguero as the team's prolific centre-forward.

Guardiola can count on incredible depth in his squad and City look to be miles ahead of the rest. Their 6-3 derby win against Manchester United recently was a warning to the rest that City can blow any rival away if they are even close to their best. Next up is a trip to Anfield to face struggling Liverpool and the outcome of that game -- a fixture that has defined the Premier League in recent years -- will tell us just how strong City are. They could do to Liverpool what they did to United and, if that happens, it is hard to see anyone stopping City.

How will it end?

 

City will lose many of their best players on World Cup duty, and Guardiola could see the majority of them going all the way to the final four and spend over a month in Qatar as a consequence, so his players will be mentally and physically drained after the tournament.

That could mean the difference between success and failure in the title race, but the bad news for the rest is that Haaland will get the chance to rest up and come back refreshed after the shutdown with Norway failing to qualify for Qatar. City have such strength in depth that even if the squad are tired after the World Cup, they will still have enough to win most games in second gear, so they remain the title favourites.