Danny Welbeck ended a goalless run of 16 Premier League matches when he scored two and assisted the other as Arsenal overcame a spirited Southampton at Emirates Stadium.
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger had made seven changes with Thursday’s Europa League quarter-final second leg against CSKA Moscow in mind, and trailed when Shane Long capitalised on a first-half mix-up between keeper Petr Cech and centre-back Shkodran Mustafi.
But the hosts recovered to lead after Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang prodded in his sixth goal since joining from Borussia Dortmund for £56m in January, then Welbeck – who created the leveller with a clever flick – got his first league goal since September.
Southampton then equalised when substitute Charlie Austin turned in Cedric Soares’ cross but Welbeck headed Arsenal back in front after both sides missed a string of chances, leaving the visitors deep in relegation trouble.
Mark Hughes’ men, who had defender Jack Stephens sent off in added time before Arsenal’s Mohamed Elneny was also dismissed, remain 18th in the table and three points from safety.
The south-coast outfit also had a second Long goal ruled out for offside and defender Wesley Hoedt saw his header cleared off the line by Elneny.
Goalkeeper Alex McCarthy had kept the visitors’ second-half hopes alive with a string of impressive stops to deny Aubameyang, Granit Xhaka and Alex Iwobi.
A sterile first-half atmosphere at the Emirates, after a similarly muted last league win against Stoke, was transformed by a dramatic second half in north London.
Arsenal won over their supporters with a display of grit to keep their winning momentum going as the focus shifts to Europe again.
It is now six consecutive triumphs in all competitions and they sit sixth in the Premier League table.
And this 150th win at their home ground since they left Highbury in 2006, adds more weight to Wenger’s claim that their relative woes this term maybe require a little perspective.
They seem almost certain to miss out on the top four again this season after that happened last term for the first time in 20 years.
But even without the influential Mesut Ozil and Jack Wilshere in their starting line-up they had the mental strength to take all three points against determined opposition.
“If you look at our home season, people have seen good football here and I read somewhere that we were the third best team in the league with our home results,” Wenger said last week.
After leading twice, two late red cards and and a surprisingly loud roar at the final whistle, there was certainly entertainment at the Emirates on Sunday despite the empty seats.
Wenger and his players head to Moscow with a spring in their step, still believing they can reach the Champions League next season by winning the Europa League. They hold a 4-1 advantage from the first leg of the quarter-final.
Statistics do not always tell the full story, especially in a game when Southampton gave so much, but the numbers are stacking up against them with time running out.
It is just one win in 19 league matches now and they have conceded six goals in two league games since Hughes replaced the sacked Mauricio Pellegrino in the middle of March.
The hard luck tales kept coming on Sunday. James Ward-Prowse had a goalbound shot cleared off the line by Hector Bellerin, Hoedt too went close and Welbeck’s first Arsenal goal took a deflection off Maya Yoshida.
But if they keep alive the battling spirit they displayed against Arsenal, they might still make it to safety.
Ward-Prowse, making his 200th appearance for the club aged just 23, ran further and made more sprints than anyone else on the pitch, and Long constantly stretched Arsenal with darts behind their defence.
It does not get any easier for them, though, with fifth-placed Chelsea up next before a trip to Leicester, who are eighth.
But while they were toothless in attack during their previous 3-0 defeat at West Ham, this time they had more shots on target than their expensively assembled hosts.
The question is whether Hughes has enough time left to implement his ideas.
Saints have six Premier League games remaining, as well as an FA Cup semi-final, and there were signs here they are finding some resilience.