Andrey Arshavin's debut in an Arsenal shirt ended in frustration as they failed to find a way past Sunderland at Emirates Stadium.
At the opposite end of the table, Ryan Shawcross' last minute own goal saw Portsmouth escape from a trip to Stoke City with a 2-2 draw, with Middlesbrough's 0-0 stalemate against Wigan at The Riverside unlikely to live long in the memory.
Bolton's bid to beat the drop was handed a huge boost as they hung on at the death to record a 2-1 victory over West Ham at The Reebok.
Chelsea travelled to the Midlands post-Luiz Felipe Scolari with talk of a divided dressing room abound in West London.
Aware that a big performance was needed at Villa Park, Chelsea's players responded impressively with the type of display that was full of a bullish resolve which recalled the Jose Mourinho years.
Nicolas Anelka's winner in the 19th minute was beautifully constructed by Frank Lampard's exquisite footwork, that bamboozled Villa's Curtis Davies and Stiliyan Petrov, before a cute pass found the Frenchman.
Anelka's finish was equal to the pass, as he dinked over Brad Friedel for his 21st goal of the season.
John Terry went close to extending Chelsea's advantage as his free header brought an excellent stop from Friedel, before Ashley Young struck the bar with a dipping free-kick.
After the interval Villa had their visitors on the back foot but Chelsea held on with some resolute defending, to claim three points that takes them back above their hosts in third.
At Old Trafford, Manchester United never really hit full throttle against Blackburn but still did enough to pick up a 2-1 victory that saw their amazing sequence without conceding a Premier League goal broken at 1,333 minutes.
Wayne Rooney, handed his first start since returning from injury, broke the deadlock in the 23rd minute with a close-range poked finish from Nani's teasing cross.
If the floodgates were expected to be opened, Rovers clearly had other ideas as Roque Santa Cruz finally proved United are not impregnable with a smart finish after rounding Tomasz Kuzczak before half-time.
The second half was all about Cristiano Ronaldo. The Portuguese winger seemingly kicked-out at David Dunn, in an incident not seen by the referee, before being booked for an outrageous dive on the edge of Rovers' box.
He remains though the master of turning from villain to hero as his stunning angled free-kick beat Paul Robinson all ends-up to extend United's advantage over Liverpool.
A familiar tale of Arsenal being frustrated at the Emirates ensued in North London as Sunderland returned from the capital with a useful point.
Arshavin twice went close to opening his Arsenal account on a lively bow before fading and being replaced on the hour mark, while Kolo Toure was denied by a fine save from Sunderland goalkeeper Marton Fulop.
Sunderland had the occasional chance of their own, as Dean Whitehead forced Manuel Almunia into a decent save and, over the course of the 90 minutes, the Black Cats will feel they were worthy of a point.
Bolton got off to a dream start on home soil as they caught West Ham cold in racing into a two-goal lead within 11 minutes.
Matt Taylor's seventh goal of the season added to his collection of strikes from range, as a fine free-kick from around 25-yards gave Robert Green not a prayer. Although, West Ham's keeper may feel his positioning could have been better.
A minute later and West Ham's woes were exacerbated as Kevin Davies exchanged passes with strike partner Johan Elmander, before firing a low drive past Green on the stretch from around 12 yards.
Scott Parker's neat near post finish on 66 minutes broke a barren in front of goal that stretches back over a year, but ultimately proved to be no more than a consolation for the Hammers.
At the Britannia Stadium Stoke City and Portsmouth played out a first half that both sets of supporters would have forgotten about by the time they had queued up for their half-time brew. No chances, no excitement, no football.
After the break it was a case of same again until the game exploded into the life in the 75th minute, as Niko Kranjcar showed a touch of class previously absent from the contest in converting David Nugent's clever reverse ball.
Pompey's lead lasted just three minutes though, as referee Mike Jones got it all wrong in awarding Stoke a penalty when the ball clearly came off Glen Johnson's shoulder.
James Beattie stepped up and with customary aplomb from 12 yards dispatched past David James.
Portsmouth's bench was apoplectic on the touchline and even more so when in the 80th minute Beattie grabbed his second, despite appearing to be off-side, as he headed in Danny Pugh's volley into the ground from just a few yards out.
All looked lost for Portsmouth until the final minute when Herman Hreidarsson popped up at the back post to deliver a right-footed cross, which Shawcross diverted horribly past his own goalkeeper.
Over in Teesside, Middlesbrough and Wigan played out a goalless draw that was devoid of anything of note.
The Latics will be pleased enough to take a point back to The JJB, but for Boro boss Gareth Southgate home draws may not be enough to keep his side in the top flight.