Suffering from a hamstring problem, Cesc Fabregas was put on the bench as a precaution in case he was needed.
He was needed and despite coming off with a hamstring injury, Fabregas produced 27 minutes of football that broke Villa hearts.
With his Captain not fullly fit, Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger went for Abou Diaby to play in front of the defensive duo of Denilson and Alex Song.
Diaby had one of his finest games in an Arsenal shirt, as he orchestrated all that was good from a much improved Arsenal side in the first half.
Aston Villa's plan was clear from the onset, defend in numbers and try to hit Arsenal on the break with the pace of Gabriel Agbonlahor.
Petrov and Milner closed down well while Dunne and Cuellar were tight at the back.
The home side started well with Diaby going on many penetrating runs and often finding space where there was none.
The first real chance fell to Eduardo. Receiving the ball from Diaby, the Croatian International turned well only to see his weak effort saved by Friedel.
Denilson had a few pops at goal before Villa started to get a foothold in the game, without overly concerning Almunia in the Arsenal goal.
Toward the end of the opening 45, the home side had a succession of corners that caused all sort of confusion in the Villa box. However, the visitors managed to clear, and the sides went in level at the break.
The second half started much as the last one had progressed, with Arsenal having plenty of possession but Villa standing firm.
With no sign of attacking improvement, Wenger sent on Fabregas for Denilson with Diaby slotting back to play beside Song.
The Captain's impact was immediate.
Suddenly Arsenal's movement became more fluent with Andrey Arshavin finally getting into the game. Within 10 minutes, Fabregas' impact was complete.
Fouled by Richard Dunne, Arsenal's number four stepped up to whip in a lovely free kick from 25 yards out.
From this moment on Arsenal gained an impetus they never lost.
In the 83rd minute Fabregas made it two.
The impressive James Milner lost the ball needlessly to Armand Traore, who set Theo Walcott free down the right. The young Englishman played an inch perfect through ball for Fabregas who brilliantly slotted home.
However, Wenger's smile on the touchline soon turned to a frown as he saw his Captain hobble in celebration.
With the job done and following a rousing cameo, Fabregas was swiftly replaced by Aaron Ramsey.
Not to be out done, Arsenal's other best player on the day, Abou Diaby, strode through a tired Villa defence and curled his shot into the corner.
In one sense 3-0 is a harsh reflection on the game, yet in another sense Villa are lucky it wasn't more.
The win moves Arsenal to second for a few hours at least as Manchester United play Hull at the KC Stadium in the late kickoff.
The Gunners are now four points behind Chelsea with a game in hand.
Questions marks will still be raised over Arsenal's ability to maintain a challenge, but what is undeniable is that they have done what Chelsea, Manchester United, and Liverpool failed to do and that is beat Martin O'Neill's team.
If you didn't see the game, watch the highlights. There aren't too many players who can influence a match in such little time, but 22-year-old Fabregas is one.
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