The good news is that David de Gea, the United goalie, made a string of spectacular saves to restrict Stoke to one goal. Maybe he is still a bit cautious in coming for high crosses, but against Stoke that's probably wise. United created plenty of chances of its own, including one in the dying seconds which Ryan Giggs put wide. Above all, United escaped a bad afternoon with a 1-1 draw that meant it ended the day still in first place.
Nani gave United the lead with a copy of his goal against Chelsea a week earlier, dancing in from the left and scoring with a precise shot. Stoke leveled when Peter Crouch, for once, avoided fouling any defenders as he exploited his height advantage and headed home in the 52nd minute. After that Stoke, organized, energetic and enthusiastic, pressed while United threatened on the break.
This is not a United team that will crush opponents, especially a robust opponent like Stoke, into submission. It relies on the speed and accuracy of its attacks. On Saturday, even without Wayne Rooney, who is injured, United was still able to generate menace even though it was forced onto the back foot for long periods. Yet United also allowed a lot of chances. Stoke, especially at home, can put opponents under tremendous pressure but often lacks the killer touch. If United end up allowing so much action around its penalty area against teams with more cutting edge than Stoke, which is pretty much every other club in the Premier League, the road to the title could turn rocky.
A week ago at Fulham, City threw away a two-goal lead and dropped points for the first time this season. On Saturday, it was facing a team that had won on its last four league visits to what is now the Etihad Stadium. More dropped points would have killed all the momentum of City's fast start. The home team found a way to do what it had to do. It was neither a pretty nor a comfortable victory. That had a lot to do with the intelligence, work rate and organization of Everton. But it was a victory that showed the depth of City's resolve and, more importantly, the depth of its bench.
On Saturday, Torres scored another clever, confident goal, spinning to shoot into the corner and put Chelsea a goal up against Swansea. After 18 months of subpar performances, two in two games suggested that The Kid was back. He wasn't back for long. Ten minutes after his goal, Torres planted both boots into Mark Gower's ankle and received a red card. His recent resurgence is now going to be interrupted by a three-match ban.
It didn't matter to Chelsea. By the time Torres went off, Ramires had put Chelsea two goals up. Ramires, who is developing into an attacking threat in his second season in England, added a second before Ashley Williams headed a late reply for the Swans. But the last word belonged to Chelsea substitute Didier Drogba. He scored to make it 4-1. He looks like he could be a decent replacement for Torres.
The victory lifted Arsenal to the heady heights of 12th. How high it can climb will depend very much on van Persie, the club's one genuine goal-scorer. He had looked off the pace so far this season. On Saturday, he gave Arsenal the lead with a real striker's finish at the start of the second half. "You could feel the relief for are fans and among the team as well," Arsène Wenger, the Arsenal manager, told the BBC. Van Persie added a second, his 100th goal for Arsenal. Alex Song scored the third, but that was an adornment. Van Persie had won the game. "It is difficult to imagine our team at the moment without him," Wenger said.