Jon Walters celebrates his penalty against Liverpool with Peter Crouch tailing PA
Pemier league

Premier League parting shots

What does Stoke’s win tell us about Liverpool? Should Arsenal be concerned at the manner of their victory? How frightened should we be of City’s options?

1. It’s tempting to point to an exclusively Mancunian title race… but wouldn’t be accurate yet

So United and City keep trouncing teams and Wayne Rooney and Sergioe Aguero just keep scoring. To put Rooney’s second successive hat-trick in perspective, it’s the first time a Manchester United player has scored back-to-back trebles since Denis Law in 1964 and puts him 40% of the way to the successful Golden Boot figure of 2008-09. What’s more, it’s United’s most prolific start to the season in modern times, with 18 goals in four games and an average of 4.5 a match.

With those kind of figures – and Roberto Mancini even bemoaning the number of chances City missed in an elementary 3-0 win – it seems like the Premier League is beginning to resemble the Spanish league of the last two years.

As barely needs to be pointed out, though, four games is far too premature for such calls. Chelsea, for example, looked absolutely unstoppable at this stage last season and were racking up similar goals tallies. A season is long and a lot of unseen complications will arise along the way.

And Andre Villas-Boas’s side are probably the biggest argument against a purely Mancunian race. Although Chelsea may not have got anywhere near the level United and City have reached in the last few weeks, they are steadily improving while picking up points. And we still have yet to see anything like the emphatic impact he had at Porto.

In that sense, it’s far too soon to make calls about the title.

One thing is for certain though: the champions remain the team to beat. They’ve clearly been practising those intricate interchanges in preseason because they’ve pulled off a few in spectacular fashion already this season.

The only shadow was Tom Cleverley’s injury – following on from Danny Welbeck’s against Arsenal. But, as their goal count illustrates, this United have options.

3. It may have been a matter of inches, but Liverpool still not quite fully-functioning top-four team yet

In the end, had Jordan Henderson knocked the ball a little to the left of Amir Begovic or Luis Suarez a little to the right, then Liverpool would be celebrating a well-earned result.

Who knows? Perhaps had it been a bit of a wet and windy day, then the ball might have bobbled in a different direction and gone in.

But then, as we’ve said here before – and will continue to – forget the cliché. Stoke will give you a game on any day of the week, in any conditions at the Brittania. As an upwardly mobile (often literally) upper-mid-table Premier League team they’re as good an acid test as any as to the current state of a team.

Indeed, it’s telling that each of England’s last three champions have won at the Brittania. All in similar ways. In 2008-09, Dimitar Berbatov got an 83rd-minute Manchester United winner. In 2009-10, Florent Malouda scored a 90th-minute clincher. And, last season, Javier Hernandez scored a sensational header late on.

Liverpool perhaps had the quality to do the same – as evidenced by the chances they created – but not the conviction. And, as much progress as Kenny Dalglish as has made, that’s the kind of mentality and sheer bullishness they need to develop. First to make sure of breaking the Champions League places. Second to eventually challenge those champions.

Ultimately, Stoke’s quality means you can’t read too much into Liverpool’s failure to get a result there – particularly given the nature of the game. But it would have been a significant statement had they done otherwise.

4. Arsenal finally get up and running in the league… but are still a long way off a decent gallop

Given Arsenal’s difficulties so far, it’s simply a boost that they finally claimed three points. The manner in which Mikel Arteta integrated was also encouraging.

But the manner of victory was hardly reassuring. Despite Robin van Persie looking he might be returning to form, he was anonymous. Indeed, Arsenal needed an atrocious Michel Vorm howler while Swansea were still very much in the game going into the 90th minute. Wenger still has so much work to do.

In saying that, he knows all too well the crucial factor of confidence. A lack of it has derailed Arsenal too often in the past. And a result like that, after a few weeks like that, can only rebuild it.

5. If Tevez can actually re-integrate, then City’s options have moved from awe to shock

It says something of your resources that City can rest their top scorer in Edin Dzeko as well as their key defensive midfielder so far this season, in Gareth Barry, and still run out very easy winners. Of course, we’ve argued here before that Barry can be a hindrance to this City team’s fluidity and they were fortunate to be playing a team as ludicrously open as Wigan.

But, despite his penalty miss, despite all his troubles, despite being stripped of the captaincy and despite being overshadowed, Carlos Tevez still slotted in nicely – most notably with a divine ball from which Micah Richards should have scored.

It does, of course, help that he speaks the same language as the brilliant Sergio Aguero and even better David Silva. But, as was put forward on twitter, that’s not just Spanish. The trio linked up sublimely, with Silva stealing the show despite Aguero’s hat-trick.

And then, just when Wigan seemed to be readjusting, City brought Silva on.

The point here is that, even if City do run into trouble this season and even if you do have to go close to win a title, they at least have enough options to tackle those issues in a few different ways.

6. Andre Villas-Boas may have done all of Chelsea, Fernando Torres and Daniel Sturridge a favour by dropping the Spaniard

As we’ve seen repeatedly from Villas-Boas’s short career so far, it was the smart move.

He could have persisted with Torres, in the hope that faith would fire the striker in a Chelsea side that has looked somewhat rigid. Instead, the Portuguese gave Torres cause for further motivation and Sturridge a huge confidence boost.

The end result was a marked improvement in Chelsea’s overall performance. Of course, a lot of that was down to the influence of Juan Mata too – who was arguably only behind Silva in terms of dominating today’s games.

But, certainly, we’ve started to see a new Chelsea.

7. McLeish could really do with the 2008-09 Stephen Ireland

In the end, Aston Villa got away with it. But only thanks to a once-a-season Stilian Petrov shot and a lucky break. All things being fair, Everton’s dominance should have ensured they won that game at Goodison about 4-1.

Certainly, Villa seem to have a real problem going forward. They lack a touch of inspiration, creativity. And we’ve seen that in a series of McLeish sides – most notably Birmingham last season. If Stephen Ireland gets fit and returns to the productive form of 2008-09 it would make a massive difference. At the least, he returned to action today by coming on as a sub.

8. Coleman shows how much Everton need him

In saying that, it was a much better day for Ireland’s compatriot as Seamus Coleman gave Everton a dimension and dynamism they’ve been lacking this season. The side simply looked so much more dominant with Coleman’s runs. Although credit should also go to Royston Drenthe who offered a similar option on the other side.

Team of the day

1. Shay Given

2. Phil Jones

3. Royston Drenthe

4. Ledley King

5. Ryan Shawcross

6. Emmanuel Frimpong

7. Seamus Coleman

8. Juan Mata

9. Sergio Aguero

10. Wayne Rooney

11. David Silva