By Richard Clarke at DW Stadium
Arsenal ground out a crucial 1-0 win at Wigan Athletic on Saturday.
Arsène Wenger's side had been free-flowing and fluent in their 5-2 win at Reading on Monday but, this afternoon, they showed the other side of their character.
They only played well in patches and were forced to defend deeply for the final 15 minutes. Wigan will argue that their performance was worth a point but Arsenal battled their way to all three.
It was enough to see them rise to third place at the final whistle.
Chelsea and Tottenham had the opportunity to overtake them later over the weekend.
But it was still a heartening way for Arsenal to reach the watershed of Christmas.
For only the second time this season, Wenger named an unchanged line-up for a Premier League game. It meant Walcott continued to be the central striker and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain remained on the right. The former Southampton pair had been impressive in the 5-2 win at Reading on Monday.
It was cold and very, very wet at the DW Stadium for this lunchtime kick-off but 4,600 hardy souls had made the journey up from London. As a Christmas gesture, the Club rewarded each of them with a £10 voucher for food at Emirates Stadium.
The conditions were hardly conducive to stylish football but both sides were lively in the opening quarter-hour.
In the ninth minute, Arteta fed Oxlade-Chamberlain on the right and his low drive was batted around the near post by Ali Al Habsi. A few minutes later the keeper beat out Lukas Podolski's long-range effort.
Kieran Gibbs then set up Walcott but the England international saw his shot blocked.
While the chances had come to Arsenal, Wigan had been getting into threatening positions themselves but their final ball had been woeful.
That changed dramatically in the 23rd minute when an exquisite pass from Franco Di Santo released Arouna Kone through the middle. He outpaced Per Mertesacker to go clear but dragged his shot wide of the far post.
The chance inspired Wigan as half-time approached but, again, their delivery would let them down.
Arsenal were not at their best but they continued to create the better chances.
Santi Cazorla threaded a ball to Walcott in the area but, although the striker found himself some space, he could not get his shot away.
The half meandered to a quiet close. It was a contrast to that break-neck start and both sides were in need of improvement if they were serious about scooping all three points.
Arsenal repsonded better, showing much more impetus after the restart. Oxlade-Chamberlain escaped five minutes into the second period and cut the ball back for Walcott at the near post. Al Habsi made a fine save.
On the hour, the visitors made the breakthrough. Walcott chased Gibbs' errant cross, exchanged passes with Cazorla and burst into the area. Beausejour bundled him over and Arteta dispatched the penalty in ice-cool fashion.
The visitors went in pursuit of a second but Wigan would reply soon enough. Wojciech Szczesny saved from Maynor Figueroa's deflected shot and, more pertinently, after Kone weaved inside Sagna and Mertesacker.
After that David Jones blasted a powerful effort just wide.
Arsenal were making heavy weather of this game. Their best period had preceded the goal but, having got the lead, they had allowed Wigan back into the game.
The home side cranked up the pressure as the game went on. Towards the end, Figueroa blasted over and McArthur flicked a shot just past the far post.
But, by hook or by crook, Arsenal held on.
- Vermaelen (C)
- Cazorla 90
- Arteta Goal!
- Wilshere Yellow Card
- Podolski 79
- Oxlade-Chamberlain 75
- Coquelin 79
- Ramsey 75
- Koscielny 90
- Maloney 89 Yellow Card
- Santo 77
- McManaman 77
- Gomez 89