The Arsenal captain cashed in on an uncharacteristic error from Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech on the stroke of half-time to head home the only goal of a pulsating match which proved conclusively that Arsene Wenger’s men have what it takes to stay the course in what is turning into the most intriguing of Premier League title races.
The victory took Arsenal back to the top, a position they had relinquished for a couple of hours following Manchester United’s triumph against Liverpool at Anfield.
But, in a match which contained nine bookings, four for Arsenal and five for Chelsea, they were made to battle all the way.
Before the match Chelsea manager Avram Grant had tried to play down the importance of victory, suggesting that the title would be won and lost by results against teams other than the big four.
But while Chelsea had not been defeated for 16 matches they have now lost to Manchester United and Arsenal and drawn against Liverpool and haemorrhaged eight points against their closest rivals this season.
Those are not title-winning statistics, but if ever there was a match which proved the thunderous appeal and total commitment of the Premier League then it was this one.
A match which was always as much about who was missing as playing.
While Arsenal saw Cesc Fabregas, Alexander Hleb and Mathieu Flamini all return from injury, Chelsea were missing Michael Essien, Ricardo Carvalho and Didier Drogba.
Drogba’s absence, after a knee operation and with the African Nations Cup pending, could yet prove the most crucial of the Chelsea season.
It was a match in which Arsenal employed their pleasing patterns, Fabregas and Hleb always at the heart of the creation and Emmanuel Adebayor a constant threat while Chelsea were content to soak up pressure and rely on the quick counter.