This was a grind but Arsenal, as they have shown regularly this term, are not averse to squeezing out tight, patient victories these days. Arsène Wenger's side are restored to the top of the Premier League and considerably buoyed by Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain's first goals in 14 months. They will watch the two teams directly below them slug it out on Monday satisfied that their own job has been done.

It was heartening to see the England midfielder drive them on, summoning energy and the opening goal just as anxiety was threatening to grip the home support. This was his first league start since the season's opening day and the celebrations after his clipped effort looped over Julián Speroni were an outpouring of five months of frustration in rehabilitation after a knee-ligament injury. In a midfield depleted by pulls, tweaks and suspension, Oxlade-Chamberlain's was a reassuringly crisp presence in the centre. Arsenal can tap into his enthusiasm over the weeks ahead.

The identity of the goalscorer aside, this contest had followed a prescribed script. Crystal Palace had retreated deep with ranks massed behind the ball, stifling the play and forever coiled to spring up-field on the counterattack. The onus had been on Arsenal to break them down but, while a team who include Mesut Özil and Santi Cazorla in their number rarely lack for invention, there was too much plod in the clutter for comfort. Arsenal have managed only three first-half goals in 10 league games and even Oxlade-Chamberlain admitted he had initially failed in his "duty to make more runs off the ball".

Yet barely three minutes into the second period he had made amends. Cazorla had created one of their clearest early sights of goal with a clipped diagonal pass for Nacho Monreal, whose volley was suffocated by an on-rushing Speroni on that occasion, but the Spaniard was allowed to repeat the pass just after the break. His delivery bypassed Palace's back-line, though they still might have escaped had Marouane Chamakh, back on familiar territory, not dithered and allowed Oxlade-Chamberlain to sprint from his side. The midfielder scuttled into the space behind Joel Ward to reach Cazorla's pass and flick his finish over Speroni.

The complexion of the game was altered and Palace were forced to demonstrate more adventure but, as a result, were vulnerable at the other end. The midfielder's second, 17 minutes from time, was smartly crafted and dispatched, Oxlade-Chamberlain exchanging passes with Olivier Giroud before a low finish across and beyond Speroni found the corner.

Arsenal will take huge comfort in his return, even if Jack Wilshere should be fit at Liverpool on Saturday. Mathieu Flamini will still be banned while Aaron Ramsey and even their loan signing from Spartak Moscow, Kim Kallstrom, remain crocked. The mystifying nature of the Swede's deadline-day arrival will be forgotten if the Englishman continues to make an impact in his absence.

Palace, too, have been here before. Their admirable resistance had been eroded at Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City, their relative spirit of adventure unrewarded at Chelsea, in the months since Tony Pulis took up the reins. On those occasions they had threatened as an attacking force but here Jason Puncheon and Yannick Bolasie were erratic in their delivery when they had to be pinpoint. Palace have managed only 15 league goals all season, their best opportunity here thwarted by Wojciech Szczesny's near-post save after Puncheon's cross had been nodded on by Bolasie and headed goalwards by Cameron Jerome.That chance had come 90 seconds after Arsenal's opener and with it went the visitors' realistic hopes of a comeback.The return of Glenn Murray from his own knee-ligament injury, and the additions of Thomas Ince and Joe Ledley, should add to their armoury for the contests ahead, starting with the critical visit of the side immediately above them in the table, West Bromwich Albion, on Saturday. Murray will be included in the club's 25-man squad and is due to play for the development side in an under-21s game at Brighton on Monday night.

"We've got to score more but Glenn has got goals all over him, Tom [Ince] will score from wide and Joe has a good record from midfield," Pulis said. "We want to keep our organisation and resilience and show the spirit we have over the last couple of months but those three should offer us a threat. I'm disappointed because we've played a lot better than that at the other big clubs we've visited and looked a real threat in those games. But at least they kept working hard and showed good togetherness."

Arsenal are doing that at present to maintain their position as front-runners in the title race. There remain doubts as to whether the squad can withstand Manchester City's stampeding presence or Chelsea's knowhow but they have kept things going up to now. "I've faced that question, whether we can maintain it, since the start of the season," Wenger said. "And we are where we are. That cannot be a coincidence. You cannot be lucky over 24 games, that is for sure.

"People point to the fact we haven't won anything for so many years and it's hard to get that out of their brains now. We haven't done it for a while. And we face quality competitors, not average teams. City have scored over 100 goals, so everyone thinks: 'Can you beat this team?' I say yes." For the moment that is Chelsea's problem and Arsenal can sit and watch from the top.

Man of the match Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (Arsenal)