The Arsenal captain, Cesc Fabregas, came off the substitutes' bench yesterday to score two goals that dragged his club back into the title race with a 3-0 victory over Aston Villa, but it came at a cost. Fabregas aggravated his hamstring injury and could yet be ruled out for another three weeks.
Arsenal's win meant that, in the crucial Premier League game between third and fourth-placed teams, Arsène Wenger's club moved to within four points of the leaders Chelsea with one game in hand. Manchester United also closed the gap with Chelsea to two points after Wayne Rooney inspired them to a 3-1 victory over Hull.
Rooney was badly at fault in the build-up to the award of a Hull penalty that made the score 1-1 after an hour and the striker said that it was his fear of Sir Alex Ferguson's reaction that spurred him on to create United's two decisive goals.
Fabregas's spectacular 27-minute cameo against Villa put Arsenal right back in the title race. He scored twice in 16 minutes, before Abou Diaby added a third in stoppage time, but did not finish the game.
Wenger said he did not know whether Fabregas had torn the hamstring again. "We do not know yet if it is a recurrence of the pull or just scar tissue," Wenger said. "If it is scar tissue then it is a few days, but if it is a reoccurrence, then it is three weeks out."
Wenger denied suggestions he had gambled by calling on Fabregas, who had suffered the initial injury just 11 days earlier in the 1-1 draw with Burnley. Fabregas aggravated it as he sprinted to score his second goal.
Wenger said: "I feel I did the right thing, and would do it again. I put him on the bench and I knew before the game that, if it was needed, I would put him on. You do what you think will win the game. Aston Villa are a team which makes you nervy because you can be dominant and lose the game."
Rooney scored the first for United. After Craig Fagan's penalty he had a major role in Andy Dawson's own goal for United's second and Dimitar Berbatov's third. Rooney said: "I made a mistake [a backpass that put United in trouble] and, thankfully, we still won the game or the manager would not have been pleased. It was the first time it has happened to me and it wasn't a nice feeling.
"I didn't want to let the lads down [but] I was more worried what the manager would say. We knew this was a big game for us."
The Villa manager, Martin O'Neill, refused to be downcast. "You can draw all sorts of conclusions from just one game and we have to look at the bigger picture," he said. "We are up there in the league because we deserve to be."