Santi Cazorla eased the strain on Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger with a timely double in a 2-1 Premier League win over lowly Aston Villa at the Emirates Stadium.
The Spanish attacking midfielder handed the home side a richly deserved success when he tucked away Nacho Monreal's cross on 84 minutes after some dogged defensive work by Villa looked like helping them escape from London with a draw.
Cazorla struck the opening goal for Arsenal on six minutes only for Andre Weimann to level for Villa on 68 minutes after Paul Lambert's side had sped up the field at pace.
Arsenal are within one point of fourth-placed London rivals Tottenham, but the win was greeted with real relief among the London club's supporters after back-to-back home defeats to Blackburn in the last 16 of the FA Cup and Bayern Munich in the last 16 of the Champions League over the past week.
It should also be welcomed by Arsenal goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny, who went down in instalments in failing to keep out Weimann's low raking equaliser as it somehow eluded him from over 20 yards or so out.
Villa are 18th in the Premier League standings and remain deep in the relegation mire, but at least they did not collapse after falling behind.
Their strategy of soaking up pressure before playing on the break almost paid dividends, but Arsenal should not feel too much guilt having spent what felt like the entire second half attempting to unearth a second goal before Cazorla struck.
Carl Jenkinson and Abou Diaby had replaced Bacary Sagna and Lukas Podolski from Arsenal's 3-1 loss to Bayern on Tuesday with Monreal in for Laurent Koscielny.
Villa's Charles N'Zogbia recovered from the thigh injury he suffered during the closing stages against West Ham to start for the visitors. Striker Gabriel Agbonlahor and midfielder Karim El Ahmadi were also available after illness ruled them out of the 2-1 win against Sam Allardyce's side.
Agbonlahor started the match with El Ahmadi coming off the bench later on, but neither could stave off the stench of Villa's latest defeat.
Cazorla popped up with the opening goal a minute after Brad Guzan had made a smart block from Jack Wilshere, who should really have fed team-mate Theo Walcott.
Villa defender Nathan Baker was at fault for the concession of the opener as he knocked a clearance straight to Cazorla. The former Malaga player composed himself to sweep the ball low and hard into the corner of the net from 12 yards out.
Agbonlaor looked bright to force Szczesny to punch away a deflected effort on 10 minutes while the Poland goalkeeper was forced to claw out an N'Zognia shot 14 minutes later, but Villa's attacking ploys became rarer the longer the game progressed as Guzan halted Olivier's Giroud shot before the break after he had been played in by Cazorla.
Clark headed over when he should have hit the target with a free header from an Ashley Westwood corner on 48 minutes. It was a moment Villa would live to regret as Arsenal set up camp in the visiting half.
Giroud smashed Cazorla's pass over and wide on 51 minutes while he narrowly failed to connect with a Carl Jenkinson ball across the face of the Villa goal.
Villa made the most of one of their rare forays into the opposition half as Weimann found the equaliser, but Arsenal would not be dissuaded from the task at hand despite some glum looks emanating from the home technical area with Wenger sporting a hangdog look.
Arsenal won corner after corner in applying some real heat. It looked like they might not break Villa's resistance when Guzan touched Giroud's header from a Walcott corner onto his bar and over on 80 minutes, but Cazorla had other ideas as he read Monreal's pass after his fellow Spaniard had been spotted on the run by the vision of Jack Wilshere.
MAN OF THE MATCH
Santi Cazorla - A classy performance by Cazorla was enhanced by his two goals, but the little Spanish player's passing technique was also a joy to behold on a day when his manager really needed him.
Arsenal: Szczesny 5, Jenkinson 6, Mertesacker 6, Vermaelen 6, Monreal 7, Arteta 6, Diaby 6, Wilshere 8, Walcott 6, Giroud 7, Cazorla 8..subs: Koscielny 6, Ramsey 6, Podolski 6
Aston Villa: Guzan 7, Lowton 7, Clark 7, Baker 7, Bennett 7, Westwood 6, Delph 6, Agbonlahor 7, Weimann 7, N'Zogbia 6 Benteke 6..subs: El Ahmadi 6, Dawkins 6
- Sports & Recreation
- Santi Cazorla
- Aston Villa
- Premier League