Steve Bruce has admitted he would not have expected Newcastle and Arsenal to head into the final third of the Premier League season separated only by goal difference.
The Gunners, who dispensed with the services of manager Unai Emery at the end of November and handed the reins to Mikel Arteta, currently sit in 10th place in the table as one of four teams, along with Burnley, the Magpies and Southampton, to have taken 31 points from their opening 25 games.
That may reflect Arsenal's underachievement as much as it does Newcastle's resilience, but Bruce is convinced it simply proves how testing the English top flight is as the sides prepare to meet at the Emirates Stadium on Sunday.
Asked if he could have envisaged the situation after the Gunners won 1-0 at St James' Park during the opening weekend of the campaign, he said: "Well, I didn't think we'd be on level points, I have to tell you that, and I didn't think we'd win two more games than Arsenal, I would have to say.
"But it is the Premier League and it is what it is, and even a mighty club like Arsenal are in – is transition the right word? Different style, different manager, so it shows you how difficult it is even at a big club like Arsenal in change and turnaround.
"To answer your question, probably not, I wouldn't have thought that would be possible. But here we are."
Bruce's Newcastle team remain a work in progress, with victories over Tottenham, Manchester United and Chelsea and a draw with Manchester City masking some indifferent displays either side.
Asked to assess the season to date, the head coach said: "I think we've done OK. We've had huge problems over the last six weeks and fair play to the squad for showing that resilience that they've shown in many, many games.
"It can't be a fluke, not over 25 games anyway. They have a certain resilience about them and a certain pride about them which is pretty evident every day they train and play.
"They're a good set who roll up their sleeves and make sure they have a go and when you've got a team like that, then you've always got a chance."