Santi Cazorla scored twice to help Arsenal survive a gamely challenge from a desperate Aston Villa side as the Gunners earned a 2-1 victory.
The Gunners came out flying. Jack Wilshere had a terrific chance to put them on the board first, but was turned away by Brad Guzan. Moments later, in the sixth minute, Cazorla did find the net with a seeing-eye strike through traffic in the box.
At that point, it looked like it Arsenal was going to run away with the match. Give credit to Villa, however, as they regained their composure and started putting on some pressure of their own. Charles N'Zogbia had a golden opportunity just inside a half hour. Wojciech Szczesny was up to the task.
Arsenal increased the level of pressure once again in the dying minutes of the opening half. Olivier Giroud and Wilshere both had chances to make it 2-0, but weren't able to produce the final touch they needed to convert.
How would you grade Arsenal's performance?
Given the high number of chances in the half, it was actually surprising only one hit the net. Szczesny and Guzan were both strong between the pipes.
After a slow start to the second half, Andreas Weimann provided Villa fans with something to cheer about. The 21-year-old winger led a counter-attack and unleashed a hard shot that got by Szczesny to level the score at one. The Arsenal keeper should have done better.
Arsenal took complete control of the match after the Weimann equalizer. They generated chance after chance, and proceeded to squander them all as the Emirates Stadium crowd grew anxious.
Then, in the 85th minute, Cazorla came to the rescue for the Gunners. Nacho Monreal delivered a hopeful ball to the middle of the box and the Spain international made no mistake as he fired it home.
Villa wasn't unable to secure another equalizer.
Key Player Grades
Santi Cazorla (Arsenal): A
Cazorla produced a terrific finish to give Arsenal the early lead. He put the ball between the legs of two defenders with enough pace to find the net despite a touch from Guzan. He put constant pressure on Villa throughout the match by using his creativity.
Cazorla curled in several well-placed corner kicks in the latter stages of the match, but his teammates weren't able to bury them. Thankfully for Arsenal, he rose to the occasion once again with just over five minutes left to will the club to three points.
Theo Walcott (Arsenal): B
Walcott was a constant threat on the right side, giving the Villa back line plenty of problems by using his pace to open space. He generated several scoring chances, but wasn't able to convert. It did help wear down the Villa defenders, though.
He became less of a factor as the match went on, perhaps running out of steam after so many dangerous runs in the early going. Even though he earned a solid grade for all his hard work, he needed a goal to complete the performance.
Brad Guzan (Aston Villa): B
Guzan probably figured he would be in for a busy day given Arsenal's offensive firepower and Villa's struggles at the back. And he was. Not much he could do on the Cazorla goal, which came through a crowd before he had time to react.
The Villa keeper deserves praise for keeping his club alive and allowing them to tie it for awhile. He was left out to dry on the Arsenal winner. Guzan wasn't able to steal a point for a side in desperate need of one, but wasn't the reason for the loss.
Christian Benteke (Aston Villa): C+
Benteke, who entered the match on a five-match goal streak, wasn't able to find the net on Saturday. He struggled to make his presence felt as the Arsenal back line clearly made a concerted effort to limit his touches in the attacking third.
Benteke spent a lot of time tracking back to help the defense, especially on set pieces. That isn't where Villa need him playing to be successful, though. A couple lackluster touches in the second half highlighted a thoroughly average outing.
Arsenal travel to White Hart Lane for key clash with Tottenham next Sunday. Both clubs are battling for a spot inside the top four. The Gunners will be looking to sweep the season series.
Aston Villa have another tough matchup next Saturday against Manchester City. Villa were crushed in an earlier game against the defending champions, losing by 5-0 score.