Wilshere Gnabry Arsenal
Arsenal midfielder Jack Wilshere celebrates his goal against Aston Villa in the English Premier League, January 13. Reuters

It should have been a 5-1 cruise really, the kind of game where you enjoy every moment as an Arsenal player and reduce that goal difference gap on Manchester City.

However, the Gunners, after going 2-0 up early, forgot to keep their foot on the accelerator, allowing Aston Villa, for whom home wins have come rarer than a sunny day in England, to make a real game of it in the second half.

In the end, Arsenal did hold on for the three points, a nervy it-should-have-been-so-much-easier 2-1 victory to drop City down to second, and Chelsea down to third, and reclaim their place at the top of the English Premier League table.

Jack Wilshere and Olivier Giroud had seemingly put Arsenal in cruise mode in the first half, before Christian Benteke, the man who had forgotten how to score, found the back of the net in the second half to make the game at Villa Park interesting in the final 20 minutes.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain found a place on the bench, with Serge Gnabry given a chance to shine from the beginning again. Aston Villa made their intentions clear, with Paul Lambert going for three centre-backs and a packed midfield to negate the we-pass-in-the-blink-of-an-eye Arsenal playmakers.

It was an Attack vs Defence training drill right from the off, with only one team enjoying any kind of meaningful possession.

Arsenal realising they were up against a Villa blanket, took their time to find their groove knowing fully well patience was the name of the game in such situations.

Villa's plans of a back-three, then a back five, and a back two with Christian Benteke and Gabriel Agbonlahor, were thrown out of the water with Nathan Baker having to be stretchered off after taking the ball flush on his face off a strike from Gnabry.

The home side went into a back-four now, and that immediately opened up chances for Arsenal - not that there was ever going to be any change in tactics from Villa, with Lambert, if he could have, probably thinking of bringing on an extra player or two, or even a couple of fans to add further bodies behind the ball.

For a home side, even against a side the stature of Arsenal, such unbelievably negative tactics are a little hard to swallow, particularly from a manager who is supposedly one of the best young ones in England.

With space afforded in midfield as Aston Villa retreated, Ozil played in a ball to Cazorla near the halfway line, with the Spaniard then putting through Nacho Monreal, who crossed from the left to Wilshere. The England midfielder took a wonderful first touch to set up a pure low drive into the bottom corner.

The opening goal came in the 34th minute, and hardly 60 seconds had gone before Arsenal made it 2-alrite-boys-that's-done-and-dusted-0 via Giroud. Wilshere turned creator this time, robbing Fabian Delph, before playing in Giroud, who after a couple of touched thumped the ball into the back of the net.

With plenty of injury time to go in the first half, following a long stoppage due to Baker's injury, Villa did have time on their hands to go for an at-least-let's-make-a-game-of-it goal, but Arsenal, despite some sloppiness creeping into their game, and Mezut Ozil having one of the worst first halves of his career, just kept the ball without any pressure to go into halftime at 2-0.

A change was needed for Villa in the second half, with Lambert probably telling his players: OK lads I probably made a mistake, let's give it a go in the second 45.

The home team showed much more intent from minute 46, something they should have done from minute one, but despite a couple of shots from distance, Arsenal were comfortable, with Arsene Wenger's men content to cruise in second gear, rather than go for the kill.

The gears needed to change, however, on 76 minutes when Villa got back into the game out of nowhere. Santi Cazorla gave the ball away inside his own half, with Mathew Lowton curling a sumptuous cross for Benteke to head in at the far post - the Belgian's first goal in 13 games.

Belief is a wonderful thing, with it seeping through the Villa players following the goal, while Arsenal's seemed to drain out quicker than a pitcher of beer on a hot summer's night.

Oxlade-Chamberlain came on for the first time in five months for substitute Tomas Rosicky who was forced off with a head injury as Arsenal looked to see off the final minutes.

Benteke was looking more like the striker of last season now, coming close on a couple of occasions as Villa, urged on by their home fans, poured forward.

However, Arsenal's defence, the best in the league, said we-are-a-little-nervous-but-thou-shall-still-not-pass to ensure that much-craved place at the top of the table.