Jack Wilshere scored a goal and assisted the other as Arsenal returned to the top of the Premier League table with a 2-1 win at Aston Villa on Monday night.
Olivier Giroud also scored for the Gunners, who led 2-0 at half-time on the way to their eighth win in 11 away matches this season.
Aston Villa's Christian Benteke ended a personal goal drought that had spanned 11 league matches, scoring in the second half to set up a tense finish.
The victory moved Arsenal onto 48 points through 21 matches, one point more than Manchester City and two more than Chelsea. Both City and Chelsea won at the weekend, placing pressure on Arsenal to take the full three points at Villa Park.
FT 1-2 #afc Arsenal hold on. More nervy than it should have been given their level of superiority for an hour or more. Still, they go top.— James Olley (@JamesOlley) January 13, 2014
With winger Theo Walcott out for the season with a knee injury, Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger drafted 18-year-old Serge Gnabry into the right side of his attack. Wilshere partnered Mathieu Flamini in the holding midfield, with Mikel Arteta out of the squad with a calf problem, per The Independent's Sam Wallace.
Aston Villa manager Paul Lambert paired strikers Benteke and Gabriel Agbonlahor ahead of a five-man midfield. Captain Ron Vlaar anchored a three-man defence.
Villa won the return fixture, beating Arsenal 3-1 at the Emirates Stadium on the season's opening day. The defeat will have provided the Gunners with extra motivation Monday night, but the most pressing concern was keeping pace with title challengers Manchester City and Chelsea.
Arsenal settled into their possession game quickly, with Villa content to defend in numbers and counter when possible. The visitors had a sight on goal in the fifth minute when Bacary Sagna crossed dangerously into the middle, but Olivier Giroud directed his header wide of goal.
Villa capitalised on a miscue in Arsenal's half to carve out their first chance in the 13th minute. Pouncing on Wilshere's errant pass, Benteke laid off for Fabian Delph, who dragged his shot off target from the edge of the box.
The hosts were forced into making a change in the 21st minute as Leandro Bacuna replaced Nathan Baker, who was unable to continue after being hit in the face by a shot from Gnabry moments earlier. Baker was carried off the pitch on a stretcher following a seven-minute delay.
According to Aston Villa's official Twitter feed, Baker suffered a "mild concussion."
Villa switched to a four-man defence after the restart, but within moments, the hosts nearly went ahead.
In the 22nd minute, Delph's cross from the left found Karim El Ahmadi in a dangerous position in the middle of Arsenal's box. But El Ahmadi hit his volley over the bar.
Arsenal kept attacking patiently, though, and in the 34th minute the Gunners went ahead.
Mesut Ozil freed Nacho Monreal with a through ball on the left flank, and Monreal pulled back for Wilshere in the box. Wilshere took a quick first touch before poking past Brad Guzan for the opening goal.
Arsenal's Jack Wilshere on @SkySports: "I see myself as an attacking midfielder so I need goals and assists like the Gerrards & Lampards"— Premier League (@premierleague) January 13, 2014
It was 2-0 less than one minute later, and Wilshere was involved again.
After dispossessing Delph in the midfield, Wilshere lofted a weighted ball toward Giroud on the edge of Villa's box. Giroud brought down the chip with his first touch and then, holding off two defenders, finished at the far post.
Giroud had the ball in the net again in the 55th minute, but Wilshere had been ruled offside correctly in the buildup of the play. Six minutes later, Santi Cazorla tried his luck with a shot from distance, but Guzan saved low to his left.
Villa's Ashley Westwood tested Wojciech Szczesny with a well-struck effort from long distance in the 65th minute, but the Arsenal keeper saved comfortably. Eight minutes later, Giroud curled a shot wide of the near post after being set up by substitute Kieran Gibbs.
Villa pulled a goal back in the 76th minute, with Benteke ending his goal drought in the process. After a giveaway by Cazorla, Matthew Lowton curled in a cross from Villa's right flank. The ball bounced in the middle of the box before Benteke stooped low to direct a diving head into the net, cutting Arsenal's lead to 2-1.
Suddenly it was game on again. Villa poured forward, and Delph tried a shot from distance in the 82nd minute. Benteke had a good chance to draw level in the 90th minute, but his header from Lowton's cross was too close to Szczesny.
Villa kept searching for an equaliser throughout the six minutes of added time as Arsenal threw men behind the ball. In the end, though, Villa were unable to avoid a seventh home defeat in the league this season.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain made a late cameo for Arsenal, replacing Tomas Rosicky to make his first appearance since opening day.
Joy to watch Wilshere. Amid all the pessimism about England, he and a few others show there's room for some optimism too— Oliver Holt (@OllieHolt22) January 13, 2014
Late flurry from Villa but Arsenal deserved the win that takes them back to the top of the Premier League.— Phil McNulty (@philmcnulty) January 13, 2014
|Karim El Ahmadi||6|
|Leandro Bacuna (for Baker, 21')||6.5|
|Andreas Weimann (for El Ahmadi, 73')||6|
|Kieran Gibbs (for Monreal, 66')||7|
|Tomas Rosicky (for Gnabry, 69')||6|
|Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (for Rosicky, 86')||7|
Aston Villa play at Liverpool in the league on Saturday.
Arsenal host Fulham in the league the same day.