Carlos Tevez secured City's victory over Swansea, putting the champions a point behind Chelsea before the leaders host Manchester United on Sunday.
"They sat quite deep and made it difficult for us to get the ball forward," City midfielder Gareth Barry said.
It took Mikel Arteta's late scrambled goal for Arsenal to overcome winless, 10-man Queens Park Rangers and rise to fourth — seven points behind Chelsea.
While Arsenal's attack lacked cutting edge, the team was boosted by midfielder Jack Wilshere successfully returning after 17 months out of competitive action.
"It's been a long journey but I'm back now ... we didn't underestimate QPR and knew they were going to be strong, especially from midfield and the wingers," the 20-year-old Englishman said.
The match at Etihad Stadium was the longest since the Premier League's inception in 1992, with more than 12 minutes of stoppage time after serious injuries to Swansea goalkeeper Michel Vorm and City defender Micah Richards led to them being carried off during the second half.
Vorm will be out for up to six weeks, Swansea manager Michael Laudrup said.
The only goal came in the 61st minute, with Tevez sending the dipping shot into the bottom corner of the net beyond Vorm, who injured his groin while stretching to save.
Richards was later running down the pitch when he went down in agony holding his right knee. After receiving oxygen on the pitch he was carried off.
At Emirates Stadium, Arteta's winner came four minutes after QPR defender Stephane M'Bia was sent off in the 80th for kicking out at Thomas Vermaelen while on the ground after being fouled by the rival defender.
Olivier Giroud's initial header from Andrei Arshavin's cross was saved by Cesar but Arteta pounced to head against the bar and he prodded the rebound into the net.
The win lifted some of the gloom after successive losses in the league and Champions League.
"I am very happy with the result because we lost two big games and you could see the confidence was a bit jaded," manager Arsene Wenger said. "But we were serious and we moved the ball quite well. We needed to be patient."
Wigan emerged victorious for the first time at home this season as West Ham was beaten 2-1.
Ivan Ramis volleyed Wigan in front in the 8th and James McArthur's goal early in the second half proved decisive as James Tomkins pulled one back for West Ham in stoppage time.
There was also a late goal at Reading, with Hal Robson-Kanu retrieving a 3-3 draw with Fulham — the fourth goal in the last 13 minutes.
Reading had led at halftime through Mikele Leigertwood's goal, but Brian Ruiz levelled in the 62nd and Chris Baird headed Fulham in front.
Garath McCleary pulled Reading level late on but Dimitar Berbatov found time for what appeared to be the winner until Robson-Kanu's equalizer.
Reading remains in the relegation zone, clear of Southampton on goal difference and a point ahead of QPR.
Aston Villa and Norwich are just out of the drop zone after drawing 1-1.
Norwich defender Michael Turner denied Aston Villa manager Paul Lambert a victory against his former club by scoring late to cancel out Christian Benteke's goal.
Stoke endured a 0-0 draw with Sunderland but extended its unbeaten home run in the league to 11 matches.Suggest a correction