LONDON, Dec 27 – Cesc Fabregas scored twice after coming off the bench to inspire Arsenal to a 3-0 Premier League victory over Aston Villa that was rounded off by Abou Diaby's added-time third here on Sunday.The Gunners captain completely changed Sunday’s game at the Emirates Stadium after appearing in the 57th minute – but the gloss was taken off his display when he suffered a recurrence of a hamstring injury in scoring his second goal.
Fabregas had been named among the substitutes after a two-week absence and could now be spending even more time on the sidelines.
Victory moved Arsenal to within four points of Premier League leaders Chelsea but the loss of his captain would be of huge concern to Gunners manager Arsene Wenger.
For Villa, defeat meant they were unable to complete a clean sweep of victories over last season’s top four and missed out on the chance to leapfrog Arsenal into third place.
But the game was entirely dominated by Fabregas’s 28 minutes on the field that overshadowed Arsenal’s limited efforts up front before his introduction.
Eduardo insisted in the build-up to this game he is close to his best form and urged Wenger to give him the chance to show he can fill the gap left by Robin van Persie’s long-term knee injury.
But the Croatia international hardly strengthened his claim with a shocking fourth minute miss that left Wenger holding his head in frustration.
Eduardo did everything right when he collected Diaby’s pass and cleverly turned his marker Carlos Cuellar but presented with a clear opening just ten yards in front of goal, the striker shot tamely at Friedel.
Villa, who’d won their four previous league matches without conceding a goal, threatened to make Arsenal pay for that poor effort with the England quartet of James Milner, Ashley Young, Emile Heskey and Gabriel Agbonlahor all testing the hosts’ defence.
Meanwhile Arsenal were guilty of their familiar bad habit of overplaying on the fringes of their opponents’ penalty area, with Andrey Arshavin struggling to make any kind of impression on the game.
But the Gunners were a more direct team in the second half with Eduardo going close with a header and William Gallas seeing a shot saved by Friedel shortly before Fabregas came on in the 57th minute.
But it was the introduction of Spain midfielder Fabregas, who replaced Denilson, that really lifted Arsenal.
Friedel was called into action four minutes after the Gunners skipper came on to make a full length save from Arshavin’s low drive and that was just sixty seconds after Cuellar cleared Eduardo’s right foot shot off the line.
Fabregas then won a free-kick after being fouled by Richard Dunne and then curled a 25-yard effort over the defensive wall and beyond Villa keeper Friedel’s dive.
There seemed little way back for the visitors but Arsenal couldn’t consider the game safe until they had added a second.
That duly came thanks once again to Fabregas who finished a sweeping three-man break – started by Armand Traore’s long ball and helped on by Theo Walcott – with an excellent right foot strike before Diaby advanced against a tiring Villa defence to make it 3-0.