For match photos scroll to PHOTOSTREAM above left; for match stats, click on the stats tab; manager reaction below; press conferences to follow later
Arsenal survived a late scare to secure a 2-1 victory against Aston Villa and return to the top of the Barclays Premier League on Monday.
Arsene Wenger's men had slipped to third after wins for Chelsea and Manchester City over the weekend but first-half strikes from Jack Wilshere and Olivier Giroud were enough to send Arsenal back on top, with the London club unbeaten at Villa Park in their last 15 league visits.
Villa had held firm until two quick-fire goals handed Arsenal the initiative. First Wilshere capped a flowing move with a neat finish on 34 minutes, before he turned provider for Frenchman Giroud to side-foot past Brad Guzan only 59 seconds minute later. The hosts improved after the break and were rewarded with 15 minutes remaining when Christian Benteke, who scored twice in Villa's opening-day 3-1 triumph at the Emirates, headed home his first Barclays Premier League goal since 14 September. Arsenal's winning run in the league now stretches to four matches, while Villa remain in 11th.
Ron Vlaar and Gabriel Agbonlahor were among five players restored to Villa's starting line-up from the 2-1 FA Cup defeat by Sheffield United, while Arsenal welcomed Giroud back from an ankle problem as well as Mesut Ozil.
The visitors made a bright start and almost went ahead as early as the fifth minute when Giroud flashed a header wide from Bacary Sagna's teasing cross. Paul Lambert's men were dealt a blow as Nathan Baker had to exit play after 15 minutes when Serge Gnabry's shot struck him in the face, with Leandro Bacuna coming on.
Villa looked more threatening when play resumed, with Karim El Ahmadi scooping over the crossbar from Fabian Delph's centre. But the home side's evening unravelled as Arsenal scored two goals in as many minutes.
A slick opening led to Nacho Monreal picking out Wilshere on the edge of the area and the England midfielder moved into the area before calmly slotting home. Wilshere was also involved in the second, chipping a pass into the path of Giroud, who took one touch before steering his effort beyond Guzan.
Villa improved after the break and Bacuna could have done better when he shot straight at Wojciech Szczesny from the edge of the area. Arsenal remained comfortable in possession, however, and Cazorla tested Guzan with a driven left-foot effort on the hour. The away side came even closer on 72 minutes with a bending strike from Giroud curling just wide of the left post.
Villa ensured a nervy ending for Arsenal by halving the arrears with quarter of an hour remaining when Benteke dived to meet Matthew Lowton's cross from the right and end an 11-match league run without a goal.
Wenger introduced Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain late on, marking the winger's return from the knee injury suffered on the opening day against Villa, as Arsenal held on despite late pressure.
Aston Villa manager Paul Lambert: "Second half we were excellent. We looked great and a real threat. We were lifted by the goal, it's not easy playing Arsenal, they are title contenders but everybody can see we gave them a game. You have to give us credit. We came into it but we might have snuck a draw.
"Nathan Baker was concussed, he took a blow to the side of his head. That was dangerous and it rocked us a bit, we had worked all week on the system but thankfully he's a lot better. He throws himself into things, that's what he does."
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger: "It was vital [to fight] because the first half was more about playing, and the second half was more about fighting. They made it very physical, put the ball up high in the air and we had a very good resilient performance in the second half. Overall we have shown again both sides of the game."
"Let's take care of our performances, we have got to go forward and always get the points. Then we can see if we can make a difference with the other teams."
|18 Jan 2014||v Liverpool (A)|
|29 Jan 2014||v West Brom (H)|
|01 Feb 2014||v Everton (A)|
|08 Feb 2014||v West Ham (H)|
|11 Feb 2014||v Cardiff (A)|
|23 Feb 2014||v Newcastle (A)|