After Arsene Wenger orchestrated a 2-0 victory over Crystal Palace on Sunday to take Arsenal to top spot in the Premier League, both goals courtesy of a coming-of-age Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, the Frenchman confirmed he would not only be watching Monday's match between Chelsea and Manchester City but taking note of how they 'behave'.
'I will watch that game with interest because it's two competitors against us and it's always interesting to see how they behave,' he told the club's official website on February 2 and, tactically, there were a number of intriguing things Wenger could have taken away from Jose Mourinho's preparations, to the flaws in Manuel Pellegrini's set-up.
It was a bold, Mourinho move to omit Oscar - a player responsible for 29 chances created and six goals scored in the league thus far this season - from his starting line-up, instead electing to field Willian and Eden Hazard in attack, with a bank of three midfielders behind them - Nemanja Matic, Ramires and David Luiz.
But it was a move that ultimately yielded great results as Matic dominated the midfield, supported by Luiz, eventually overcoming and nullifying the forward potency of an initially exuberant Yaya Toure.
When Mourinho engineered a beautifully efficient defensive strategy during his tenure at Internazionale, against an in-form and seemingly unstoppable Barcelona, the near-Catenaccio method may well have frustrated some, but it was enough to oversee the attacking challenge represented by the Camp Nou outfit in 2010 and send the Serie A side through to the next stage of the Champions League competition.
On Monday evening, Chelsea may well have fielded as many defensive-minded players, with a pre-match expectancy to focus on containing Manchester City - as ruthless with the ball as Barcelona were - but each player also had an attacking role.
Full-back Branislav Ivanovic scored the match-winning goal, Nemanja Matic and Luiz had great efforts denied and centre back Gary Cahill thumped a header to the post.
And a lot of chances were created because of an exploitation of a weakness Mourinho had premeditated, even if he did attempt to deflect attention away from his own footballing intellect and toward a shouty Scotsman he could barely understand - Billy the Masseur. Mourinho recognised City could be found out on the counter and with Chelsea's bank of four defenders, two defensive-minded midfielders staying back… there were multiple occasions for an attacking four to manipulate a break.
Arguably the root of Mourinho's success against City was his homework. Even in the post-match comments made by skipper John Terry, who played exceptionally alongside Cahill, there was an indication that, as well as training ground exercises and routines, there were also lessons spent watching Jose provide instructions on a chalkboard…
'We spent a good couple of days working on their strengths and weaknesses and it's paid off,'Terry told Sky Sports.
This is one of the things Arsene Wenger is occasionally criticised for neglecting as, when Francesc Fabregas left Arsenal for Barcelona, he mentioned that the biggest difference in the managing of the teams was that, at Camp Nou, there was just as much attention placed on the strengths and weaknesses of each upcoming opponent as there was on the training ground working on their own playing style - whereas at Arsenal, it was only the case of the latter.
February and March will define Wenger and Arsenal's season. This Saturday, they travel to Liverpool, before hosting Manchester United, then Liverpool in the FA Cup followed by their first leg in the Champions League round of 16 versus Bayern Munich. The following month there's a run of four tricky fixtures including the return leg of Bayern, a trip to Tottenham Hotspur, Chelsea, then Manchester City at the Emirates Stadium.
Wenger watched Chelsea beat City so Arsenal preserved their status as the division's top dogs, but will they still have bite by the end of March and will Wenger have taken heed from any of the footballing lessons taught by Mourinho at the Etihad Stadium?
In two months we will have our answers.
image: © wonker