Sebastien Squillaci was the unlikely hero as Arsenal beat Stoke to move to within one point of Manchester United at the top of the Premier League table.

But the win was tarnished by concern over captain Cesc Fabregas and Theo Walcott, who both came off injured.

Walcott had already hit the post before defender Squillaci headed home Nicklas Bendtner’s cross to put Arsenal ahead.

Stoke improved and Gunners keeper Wojciech Szczesny denied John Carew before Robert Huth headed over the bar.

Arsenal’s delight at moving into United’s slipstream will be tempered by worry over Fabregas and Walcott.

Fabregas will have his hamstring injury assessed on Thursday morning but Walcott’s ankle sprain has already ruled him out of playing in Sunday’s Carling Cup final against Birmingham at Wembley.

With the Gunners fighting for trophies on four fronts, manager Arsene Wenger can ill afford to lose two of his key players at such a crucial stage of the season.

The injuries came in each half of the first meeting between the sides since Arsenal midfielder Aaron Ramsey broke his leg in a tackle from Stoke centre-back Ryan Shawcross.

But on this occasion, the injuries occurred in fairly innocuous circumstances, with Fabregas feeling a tweak off the ball and being withdrawn as a precaution, and Walcott twisting his ankle in the turf as he fell under a challenge from Dean Whitehead.

It had not taken long for Fabregas and Walcott to demonstrate exactly whey they are so important to the north Londoners.

With a minute gone, Jack Wilshere dribbled past two defenders and found Fabregas, whose through ball picked out Walcott well inside the box, but the England winger’s close-range shot cannoned back off the far post.

The home side were rampant and Walcott had two more opportunities to score before Squillaci gave them the lead in the eighth minute.

A Wilshere corner passed through to Bendtner at the far post and the Dane controlled the ball before teeing up Squillaci for the most straightforward of headers.

The loss of Fabregas, who was replaced by Andrey Arshavin after 14 minutes, seemed to have a negative effect on Arsenal’s players, their attacks lacking finesse and tending to peter out with a misplaced pass on the edge of the visitors’ box.

With the Gunners monopolising possession, Szczesny might as well have been sat at home with a pipe and slippers. But, when he was finally called upon, he displayed the reactions and agility that have made him Arsenal’s undisputed number one this season.

A Stoke long ball was headed back by Jon Walters for Carew, whose powerful first-time drive was palmed away by the Pole as he dived full-stretch to his right.

Perhaps sensing vulnerability in Arsenal, the visitors started the second-half on the front foot and came close to equalising when Shawcross – captaining Stoke almost exactly a year after the Ramsey incident- met Jermaine Pennant’s cross with a header that was deflected over the bar by Johan Djourou.

Shortly afterwards, Szczesny was beaten to a Rory Delap long throw by Huth but the German centre-half’s header sailed over the bar.

At the other end, Arshavin jinked past Shawcross before pulling the ball back for Walcott, who sliced wide under pressure from Huth.

Following the England wideman’s withdrawal, Stoke continued to press for an equaliser and Pennant came agonisingly close with a free-kick that floated past the post.

But the visitors could not conjure a breakthrough and eventually succumbed to their fifth away league defeat in a row.

Credit: BBC