Elano's first Premier League goal since August and a late effort from Shaun Wright-Phillips were enough for Manchester City to see off Aston Villa 2-0 at Eastlands.
Brazilian Elano stroked home the spot-kick after Wright-Phillips had been upended by James Milner midway through the first half, then the little winger stroked home a precise shot near the end after being set up by Stephen Ireland.
The result extended Villa's run to six games without a win and suddenly that crucial fourth spot is not looking quite so certain, with Arsenal breathing down their necks just three points adrift.
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