Arsene Wenger believes Chelsea are "super favourites" to lift the title this season, but the Arsenal boss was critical of the Premier League's quality as a whole in 2016.
Chelsea hold a six-point cushion over Liverpool with the year coming to a close, with the Gunners a further three back in fourth.
A run of 12 successive wins makes Chelsea the team to beat in Wenger's eyes and the Frenchman concedes that catching Antonio Conte's men is a tall order.
And Wenger knows if they are to reel in their London neighbours it is imperative they come out on top against their top-six rivals in the second-half of the campaign.
"It [head-to-head matches] will be vital of course," he told a media conference ahead of Sunday's contest against Crystal Palace.
"But Chelsea are the super favourites, it is there's to lose.
"They can still lose it, there is still a long way to go. It will be difficult for everybody and head-to-head will have a big influence."
As the calendar year comes to a close Wenger was surprisingly critical of the quality on show in the Premier League in 2016, stating all the clubs must up their levels in the coming 12 months.
"I assess it  in two parts," he added. "In the first half we finished second in the league. It was disappointing not to win the league.
"After that, in the second part, we have moved our level up, we are in the middle of the championship now, and although it is a very promising league, it promised to be an exceptional year, and I think it has been disappointing on all levels.
"We have not produced the games that are remembered, I am convinced that in the second part [of the current season] the level will go up, we have a responsibility to achieve that.
"Maybe it's because the teams are all top quality, everybody is under pressure not to lose, every game has become so important.
"I just feel there is more in the league than what we produced, and I include myself [and Arsenal] in that."