Skipper Cesc is Gunners’ super-sub

The Spaniard, who had been out with a hamstring problem, netted a

superb free-kick on 65 minutes at the Emirates Stadium on Sunday

and then a fine breakaway goal before being substituted as a

precaution, with Abou Diaby scoring a third in stoppage-time. Villa

– who had already beaten Chelsea, Manchester United and Liverpool

this season – looked dangerous on the break but could not make the

most of their pressure midway through the second half. Fabregas was

named on the bench following a hamstring injury. Full-back Armand

Traore recovered from a similar problem to start, with Bacary Sagna

also back in the starting XI. England forward Emile Heskey

recovered from a groin problem to lead the Villa attack. The

Gunners had plenty of possession but were unable to break down a

determined Villa defence in the first half. Eduardo missed a good

early opportunity when he shot tamely straight at the keeper, but

otherwise Brad Friedel was not really troubled. Villa looked

dangerous on the break. After the restart, Eduardo’s deep free-kick

was pushed away by Friedel before the Villa defence scrambled the

ball off their goalline following a corner. With 33 minutes left,

Denilson was replaced by Fabregas. Eduardo was unfortunate to see

his close-range effort cleared by Stephen Warnock after a clever

exchange with Andriy Arshavin down the left. Friedel then denied

the Russian with a full stretch save after Fabregas had weaved into

the area, and Richard Dunne cleared as Eduardo looked to knock the

loose ball in. On 65 minutes, Arsenal were awarded a free-kick 25

yards out when Dunne tripped Fabregas. It proved costly as the

Spaniard stepped up to curl a sublime effort up over the wall and

into the top left corner. Fittingly, the skipper notched again as

Arsenal wrapped up the points with a superb breakaway goal on 81

minutes. After a spell of Villa pressure, Traore hit a long

diagonal pass out to Theo Walcott on the right, who dashed forwards

before touching the ball into the path of the onrushing Fabregas –

who swept home a 12th goal of the season. The Spaniard, though,

appeared to have aggravated his hamstring injury and was replaced

by Aaron Ramsey for the closing stages. Almunia made a brave save

to deny Gabriel Agbonlahor, before Diaby netted a third goal in

stoppage-time, slotting in a low finish from the edge of the area.

The win takes Arsenal up to second, four points behind leaders

Chelsea with a game in hand, ahead of Manchester United’s match at

Hull later on Sunday. Villa stay fourth, four points behind Arsenal

having played a game more.