Second-half strikes from Theo Walcott and Andrey Arshavin helped Arsenal to a 3-1 victory over Burnley at the Emirates Stadium as the Gunners draw level with Chelsea at the top of the Premier League table.
Arsenal knew that they would go top of the table if they beat Burnley by four goals or more at the Emirates Stadium, but Burnley battled valiantly to restrict their opponents to a two-goal cushion, as the hosts combined some slack finishing with a defensive aberration.
Fabregas showed real composure to latch on to Samir Nasri’s incisive through ball and slide a precise finish under Brian Jensen in the Burnley goal to give Arsenal a 34th-minute lead, but the Arsenal skipper’s afternoon was cut short five minutes later after he sustained an injury.
David Nugent then sent the Emirates into a stunned silence with a clinical finish from a Burnley counter-attack in the second half, but 10 minutes later the excellent Theo Walcott restored Arsenal’s slender lead with an incisive run and fierce shot.
Arshavin came off the bench in the second half and put the match beyond doubt in the third minute of injury-time as Arsenal go joint top of the table, albeit with a fractionally inferior goal-difference.
The hosts’ lead could have been considerably greater had Nicklas Bendtner not been quite staggeringly profligate in front of goal, and the Dane squandered his first opportunity in just the fourth minute as he dallied to allow Martin Paterson to make a last-ditch challenge in the Burnley box.
Arsenal looked apprehensive at the back as Burnley mustered fleeting attacks, and Clarke Carlisle rose to beat Mikael Silvestre to a header from Kevin McDonald’s corner, but his effort was straight into the palms of Manuel Almunia. The hosts heeded that warning and proceeded to dominate possession.
Fabregas almost found the far corner of Jensen’s goal after a slick one-two with Emmanuel Eboue, before the right-back bustled his way down the wing to lay off a pinpoint delivery to Bendtner, who inexplicably contrived to plant his shot straight at Jensen from close-range on the half-hour.
The Dane then lost his bearings and stumbled over the ball in the Burnley box after Walcott, handed a right-wing starting berth by Arsene Wenger, cut a crisp delivery back for the striker in the 34th minute.
But Fabregas demonstrated a clinical finish a minute later as he received Nasri’s perfectly-weighted delivery and kept his cool to beat the onrushing Jensen with a sweetly-tucked finish into the bottom-right corner of the net.
Abou Diaby replaced the Arsenal skipper in the 39th minute, and the hosts appeared to lose some of their poise and conviction as chances continued to be spurned into the second half.
Bendtner nodded a free header wide of Jensen’s far post, seconds after the break, and the striker then wasted the best chance of the lot as he volleyed wide with the goal gaping at his mercy following yet another cross from Walcott as the crowd began to show their displeasure.
Burnley then stunned the Emirates as the visitors hit Arsenal on the break in the 50th minute, and Nugent capitalised on some very slack marking from Thomas Vermaelen and Silvestre to dink a precise shot over Almunia to pick out the top corner of the net and level the scores.
Arsenal pressed forward relentlessly, undeterred by the setback, and Walcott, fed up with crossing to Bendtner to no avail, cut inside at pace from the right and unleashed a fierce drive to beat Jensen at the far post and restore the hosts’ slender lead on the hour mark.
Walcott returned to his previous guise as the provider with an arrowed cross from the right which Bendtner, bereft of confidence, demonstrated more atrocious finishing with a sloppy volley wide of the far post from close range as everyone inside the Emirates had their hands on their heads.
Eduardo was introduced in the 73rd minute as Bendter departed with a rueful grin, but the Brazilian’s luck was that of his team-mates as his stabbed shot squirmed agonisingly wide after Nasri had skipped down the right and whipped over a perfect delivery.
The tension continued to mount as the home fans implored their side to assume a two-goal cushion and put the game beyond doubt, but Burnley defended obdurately and hit their hosts on the break at every opportunity.
A final flurry of chances fell to substitutes Arshavin and Eduardo as an agitated Wenger stalked the touchline with Steven Thompson coming off the Burnley bench to head wide from a corner late on.
But Arshavin pounced deep into stoppage-time to seal the win with a cut inside from the right and a ferocious low finish which comprehensively beat Jensen at his near post to finally draw a smile from his manager and send the crowd into celebration.
Arsenal preserved their lead to clinch victory, and the Gunners move level with Premier League leaders Chelsea on 61 points in second place, albeit having played a game more than their title-chasing rivals and with a goal difference two shy of Carlo Ancelotti’s side.