Cazorla offers Arsenal relief
A deadly double from Santi Cazorla saw Arsenal return to winning ways as they edged out Aston Villa 2-1 at Emirates Stadium.
On the back of a tough week which had seen the Gunners crash out of the FA Cup and suffer a UEFA Champions League battering at the hands of Bayern Munich, one very early effort from Cazorla and one very late one, after Andreas Weimann had levelled for the visitors, offered welcome relief to Arsene Wenger and his troops - who are now just one point adrift of the top four.
Watched by owner Stan Kroenke, making a rare visit to north London, Arsenal started well. Jack Wilshere capitalised on a poor backpass and raced at goal, but the midfielder fired straight at Brad Guzan.
Cazorla then lifted the quiet atmosphere inside the Emirates with Arsenal's opener in the sixth minute. Nathan Baker blocked Cazorla's initial shot after some good work by Wilshere, but the Spaniard made no mistake with his second effort, slotting past Guzan with a beautiful curling effort.
Urged on by an animated Paul Lambert from the touchline, Villa looked to hit straight back. Charles N'Zogbia raced down the right past Thomas Vermaelen and pulled the ball back for Gabriel Agbonlahor but Wojciech Szczesny saved.
Villa's attacks led to a nervous atmosphere inside the Emirates, but Theo Walcott brought them to the edge of their seats with a teasing curler that flew inches over Guzan's goal.
Arsenal's passing was often sloppy and the home fans became annoyed at the Gunners' attempts to pass the ball in to the net. The hosts did produce an impressive move just before the break, though, with Cazorla finding Olivier Giroud, but Guzan was equal to the Frenchman's effort.
Arsenal started to dominate the game again after the break, but again, they were reluctant to shoot on goal, much to the annoyance of the home crowd.
With Arsenal throwing so many players forward, they were left vulnerable at the back. Weimann went on another rampaging counter down the right and crossed for Agbonlahor, but the forward headed wide.
Wenger was forced into a change just after the hour when Abou Diaby hobbled off with another injury. Aaron Ramsey came on in his place.
Villa then stunned the home side by equalising on 68 minutes. Carl Jenkinson failed to clear a long punt down field, the ball made its way to Weimann and he went on a blistering 40-yard run before beating Szczesny with a weak shot.
Wenger rose from his bench and cast a disappointed glare at his team. His troubles nearly worsened soon after when Christian Benteke found space at the back post but Per Mertesacker got in front of the Belgian before he could head on goal.
Guzan saved brilliantly to deny Giroud from point-blank range as Arsenal continued to pile forward, and the Gunners finally got their reward five minutes from time when Nacho Monreal swung the ball into the box and Cazorla converted, much to the relief of Wenger and the home support.