It would be foolish to draw too many conclusions from Arsenal's most recent victory, given that the Aston Villa side which pitched up at the Emirates Stadium on Saturday represented not so much a poor excuse for a Premier League side as a "yeah, I just couldn't be bothered", but nevertheless it is a safe bet that most fans coming across a 3-0 result will have assumed Robin van Persie's name would feature on the scoresheet.
1) Arsenal are not such a one-man team
It did not. Arsenal's goals came instead from Kieran Gibbs, Theo Walcott and Mikel Arteta.
Van Persie, indeed, has gone a whopping 255 minutes without a goal – he averages one every 101 minutes this season – and yet in the interim Arsenal have scored five times. In tight games against Everton and Newcastle it was not the Dutchman but the centre-back Thomas Vermaelen who arrived on both occasions with a decisive intervention. Van Persie was not directly involved in any of the three goals on Saturday.
Arsenal fans will have been encouraged to see that such results can be achieved even on their captain's rare quiet days – with the calibre of the strikes by Walcott and Arteta indicative of the team's soaring confidence. The former arrived after another superlative assist from Alex Song, floating the ball over the defence and right into the path of his team-mate – just as he has already this season for Van Persie against Liverpool and Everton. If Arsenal are indeed a one-man team, perhaps it is not the man we had all assumed. PB
2) Dalglish entitled to benefit of the doubt … for now
There is not an awful lot new in the team that wins the Carling Cup falling away in their remaining league games after European qualification has been achieved. Liverpool's current malaise – five defeats in their last six games and only eight points in 2012 – can, in part, be seen through this prism, but that does not mean there are not real areas of concern at Anfield.
A lot of money has been spent since John W Henry assumed control of the club but a lot more will need to be splurged this summer if Liverpool are to push for a top-four spot next season. If the spending of last summer was meant to provide the nucleus of a squad that can push for big honours over the next few seasons, then you would have to think the buying strategy has failed. At the very least the club need to get all their transfer moves spot-on this summer.
The nonsensical hysteria around modern football dictates that any criticism or questioning of a manager implies that you think he should be handed a cardboard box and told to clear his desk but Dalglish and Liverpool's director of football, Damien Comolli, are moving closer to forfeiting the benefit of the doubt.
The performance in Saturday's defeat at home to Wigan was the worst in the league at Anfield this season. Dalglish's claim that his players were tired after three games in seven days has some validity but the lack of cohesion in Liverpool's play, coupled with the manager's team selection, is something that has been evident throughout the season.
If Liverpool finish sixth, it will equal or better the best ever Premier League finishing position for Stewart Downing, Charlie Adam, José Enrique, Andy Carroll and Jordan Henderson – a sizeable chunk of the Liverpool squad. While this does not necessarily prove anything, it does temper somewhat the notion that Liverpool are under-performing. There is an argument that hovering in seventh or eighth position is exactly where Liverpool should be, given the make-up of their squad.
This season was, in many ways, a transitional year for Liverpool and, with one trophy already secured and another a real possibility, it has been a lot better than many might have expected. But, given how weak the league has been at times and how much money the club has spent on players, this was a glorious opportunity to sneak back into the top four. Instead, just as when a great chance has presented itself on the pitch, Liverpool have fluffed their lines. EF
3) The pursuit of 'next-level' signings has done for Wolves
Having lost five of the their last six games, Wolves are favourites to go down, a sad state of affairs . Arguably, what has done for them is money – too much of it. Mick McCarthy took Wolves up three seasons ago on a shoe-string, using his nose for a lower-league bargain to put together a decent side. But then the owner, Steve Morgan, started investing serious amounts of money into the club to take it to the 'next level'. This has proved a disaster, an all too predictable, full-blown, no-holds-barred disaster.
McCarthy paid over the odds for players "established at this level" – Steven Fletcher, Roger Johnson and Stephen Hunt spring to mind – and, though he kept taking punts on lower-league gems, he played them less and less. Once promising careers of players like Andrew Surman appeared to evaporate in the West Midlands. And Wolves, like QPR and Aston Villa, gradually came to illustrate how underwhelming a multimillion-pound Premier League wage bill could be.
Fourteen players are on loan from Wolves at the moment, including the likes of Adlene Guedioura, Adam Hammill and Sam Vokes. Might it be that, if McCarthy and Terry Connor had played them instead of the mediocre "names" that have been stockpiled at Molineux in recent seasons, they would be doing better? Norwich have won twice as many home games as Wolves, Swansea have won twice as many away games – but the squads of both those clubs are, on the face of it, more limited than Wolves. The key difference is the fearlessness of those teams, something that so-so "next level" signings will never be able to add to a side. SA
4) Everton look set for another strong finish
It is that time of the year when Everton begin to resemble a side deserving of a place in the upper echelons of the Premier League. A marked improvement has seen David Moyes' side climb two points behind Liverpool in seventh, having lost only twice in their last 10 matches – against Arsenal and when facing their rivals from across Stanley Park with a significantly weakened team.
On Saturday Swansea followed Manchester City, Chelsea and Tottenham in succumbing to defeat, a 2-0 loss only the third time they have been beaten at the Liberty Stadium in the league this season. It was no fluke either, Everton combining their typical graft with flashes of quality in the final third to overcome a side who tore through Fulham on their previous outing. Moyes may have one eye on Tuesday night's FA Cup replay at Sunderland but he can be justly proud of Everton's ascent up the table.
Finishing the campaign with a flourish is nothing new. In 2009-10 Everton's win percentage increased by 31.6% during the second half of the season, with a similar rise of 26.3% last year. They may stutter and stall to begin with but a recurring metamorphosis transforms them into ominous opponents. If only they could start as well as they finish. JR
5) Ben Arfa finds his stride
As individual performances go, it would be hard to find one as impressive as Hatem Ben Arfa's display for Newcastle in their victory at West Bromwich Albion on Sunday. True, Roy Hodgson's side did little to stifle the France international and there seemed to be a permanent chasm between West Brom's midfield and defence which Ben Arfa gleefully exploited almost every time he got the ball. But, regardless of these allowances, the 25-year-old produced a stunning performance of creativity, guile and invention.
For various reasons – most notably serious injury and a loss of form after joining Marseille – Ben Arfa had threatened to be one of those players who promise much but ultimately deliver little in their career. What Newcastle now have on their hands is a playmaker that every side in the Premier League would like to get their hands on and there are already murmurs of a switch to Arsenal. Ben Arfa would be best off staying put. His career has had too many false starts to risk another now when things are starting to look so good. EF
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