An MVP performance from Fabregas, but a headache for Wenger as the Arsenal captain was substituted shortly after his second goal with a hamstring injury [AFP]

A brilliant Cesc Fabregas came off the bench to score twice to send Arsenal four points behind English Premier League leaders Chelsea after brushing aside Aston Villa 3-0 at the Emirates Stadium.

Arsenal's captain was exceptional in the second half and made a devastating impact when he was on the pitch, but lasted only 27 minutes before having to be replaced.

The Spaniard, who has recently returned from a hamstring injury, stamped his authority on the game with two goals in the space of 16 minutes before limping off six minutes from time in a bittersweet ending for manager Arsene Wenger.

Manchester United kept the pressure on Chelsea with a comfortable 3-1 win at Hull City, with the result lifting the defending champions back ahead of Arsenal.

Wayne Rooney gave away a goal but redeemed himself to inspire United to victory over their struggling opponents, slashing Chelsea's lead to two points.

Chelsea have 42 points from 19 games, Manchester United are on 40 from the same number and Arsenal have 38 with a game in hand.

Inspirational

With the third and fourth placed sides deadlocked at half-time, Fabregas came on for Brazilian midfielder Denilson in the 58th minute and immediately fired up the Londoners title challenge.

The Spaniard won a free kick on the edge of the area in the 65th after being downed by Richard Dunne and his perfectly-flighted shot from 25 yards sliced through the wall and curled into the top corner.

Results & fixtures

Saturday December 26

 Birmingham 0-0 Chelsea
 Fulham 0-0 Tottenham
 West Ham 2-0 Portsmouth
 Burnley 1-1 Bolton
 Man City 2-0 Stoke City
 Sunderland 1-1 Everton
 Wigan 1-1 Blackburn
 Liverpool 2-0 Wolves


Sunday December 27


 Arsenal 3-0 Aston Villa
 Hull City 1-3 Man Utd

Monday December 28

 Tottenham v West Ham
 Blackburn v Sunderland
 Chelsea v Fulham
 Everton v Burnley
 Stoke City v Birmingham
 Wolves v Man City

Fabregas then bagged his ninth league goal of the season in the 81st after being fed through by Theo Walcott, but was limping during the celebrations and holding his left hamstring.

Abou Diaby completed an emphatic victory by scoring the third goal in stoppage time.

"It's a recurrence of his hamstring," Wenger told British broadcaster Sky Sports when asked about Fabregas' condition.

"We knew before the game that it was not perfect, I decided to put him on the bench.

"But we were in the situation where he was needed. We will see if we will have long regrets or short regrets," added the Frenchman.

"I don't believe it is too bad. He doesn't think it is too bad...if it is a pull again then this time it is three weeks so lets hope its only a little bit of scar tissue," said Wenger.

Fabregas will undergo a scan on Monday to discover whether he has pulled his
hamstring again.

Arsenal's match against Villa pitted the league's highest scorers against the team with the stingiest defence.

Villa, who have already beaten Chelsea, Man Utd and Liverpool, had hoped to become the first club since Leeds United in 1994/95 to beat all of the big four in a single season.

Rooney redeemed himself after his costly mistake in the 58th minute [GALLO/GETTY]
Chasing Chelsea

Rooney was involved in every goal in the Hull city win.

The striker fired United ahead from close range on the stroke of half-time at the KC Stadium but allowed Hull back into the game with a woeful back pass in the 58th minute that led to a Craig Fagan penalty.

"It was my mistake for the goal and I don't think the manager would have
been too happy if we hadn't gone on to win,'' Rooney said.

"It was a horrible feeling to let the lads down. I don't think it's happened to me
before.''

The England striker redeemed himself when his cross was turned in by Andy Dawson for a 73rd-minute own goal that put United back in front.

Dimitar Berbatov made it 3-1 by tapping in at the far post eight minutes from time after Rooney had set him up with a perfect pass.

Source: Agencies