Arshavin, Nasri, Chamakh & Wilshere do the damage.
Andrey Arshavin gave the away side the lead after a classy dribble and shot before Samir Nasri netted a second prior to the break.
But youngster Ciaran Clark pulled one back for Villa minutes into the second half with a sweetly struck half volley only to see the two-goal deficit restored as Marouane Chamakh expertly slid the ball beneath Brad Friedel. Clark then again pulled one back, this time with a header that bounced just over the line.
Young Jack Wilshere sealed victory for the Gunners in injury time after converting a Chamakh cross with a diving header.
The main talking point before kick-off was the full home debut of Villa's first ever World Cup winner, and Arsenal legend, Robert Pires, who replaced Stephen Ireland in midfield, while John Carew returned from injury to lead the line for the home side.
Arsene Wenger, meanwhile, dropped Theo Walcott to the bench and handed Andrey Arshavin a start with Alex Song being the midfield anchor in the absence of injured captain Cesc Fabregas, while Laurent Koscielny was granted a start despite coming in for criticism for some wayward displays.
And it was the away side who kicked things off brightly as top scorer Marouane Chamakh was slipped through on goal, only to find his low effort blocked by a combination of Richard Dunne and veteran 'keeper Brad Friedel before James Collins hooked the goal-bound ball away.
Moments later and Tomas Rosicky was presented the opportunity to strike from the edge of the area, but he could only drag his effort wide after being slipped through by Samir Nasri, capping off an excellent Arsenal move, while Chamakh similarly blasted wide after another comfortable move.
The away team sensed the opportunity to go top of the table and played with composure and class throughout the opening minutes, which they almost completely dominated, with Pires a peripheral figure despite being handed a central role behind Carew, but the visitors struggled to turn their decent chances into goals as Rosicky toe-poked to Friedel when in the box and an unusually sloppy first touch denied Chamakh the chance to go through one-on-one once more.
Samir Nasri, the hub of much of his side's early forays, then twisted and turned on the edge of the area before firing narrowly wide of Friedel's goal.
After just over 20 minutes the Villans finally pieced together their first move forward as Stewart Downing jinked down the right before firing a cross that skimmed over Sebastien Squillaci's forehead and into the path of Ashley Young at the far post, but the man linked with a move away from Villa Park could only fire the bouncing ball over the bar from a matter of yards out.
That chance aside, the home fans had little to cheer about in a frustrating first half in which the claret and blue shirts were mostly penned back as Arsenal passed the ball with ease and under little pressure.
But Pires did have the Villa faithful on their feet momentarily as he rolled back the years with a slaloming run from within his own half, but the counter petered out as Ashley Young failed to return the favor to the Frenchman and slipped his cutback cross behind his team-mate.
That frustration summed up Villa's first half, and just minutes later Arsenal's dominance finally turned into a goal as Lukasz Fabianski's punt upfield was misread by Collins, freeing up Arshavin to nip beyond Dunne and fire between the legs of Barry Bannan and into the far corner of the net.
From the restart Friedel was on hand to narrow the angle as Nasri raced through on goal before chipping wide, and the American then made a superb one-handed save from a Chamakh header.
But the former Liverpool 'keeper was powerless to stop Arsenal adding a second as Nasri sweetly struck a cross on the volley and into the back of the net, but the Frenchman's strike took a wicked deflection off Luke Young before going in.
It was a goal that owed a little to fortune but a lot to class, and there could be no denying that the two-goal advantage was not warranted as the teams headed to the tunnel for half-time, with Villa left with an awful lot to do if they were to get back into it in the second half.
And Houllier did make a change to turn things around from the restart as Pires, who had looked slightly off the pace, was withdrawn for the energetic Nathan Delfouneso.
But it was another youngster, Clark, who caught the eye with a stunning hit on the half volley that flew beyond Fabianski and into the back of the net just minutes into the second half.
Yet the hints of a comeback were swiftly kicked back as Arsenal restored the two-goal advantage with style as Rosicky slipped through Chamakh, who nudged the ball beyond James Collins before sliding it underneath Friedel.
There were more moments of danger to follow as Nasri and Rosicky brilliantly combined but the former could not release young Jack Wilshere in the box as Arsenal, as has become as a cliche, began to squander their superiority and risked throwing away the game.
That prompted Houllier to make his second change of the game with Stephen Ireland replacing the disappointing Carew, and Clark should have narrowed the margin with his second of the game after finding himself unmarked in the box, but could only fire into the side netting.
But Clark soon added his second of the game after turning in a cross from the six yard area with his head, bouncing just briefly over the line before being hacked away.
That goal set up a grand stand finale as Villa, who had been thoroughly outplayed throughout, once again found themselves within a goal of a point, but Friedel and Collins had to be alert to doubly block Chamakh with the former Bordeaux man screeching through on goal.
With just under 15 minutes remaining, Arsenal struggled to find their rhythm as Villa piled men forwards with gusto, and it was the home side who, for the first time, looked the more likely to score, with the away team's yellow shirts playing almost totally in their own half.
And Wenger acknowledged the difficulty by making a double defensive change, bringing off the impressive Nasri and Arshavin for Kieran Gibbs and Denilson respectively, before Bannan was replaced by Chris Herd.
And after surviving a half-hearted penalty appeal at the back, the Gunners sealed victory in injury time as Wilshere dove in to head home a Chamakh cross to send the London side top of the table for at least a few hours.
For more news on England, visit Goal.com's England section and join Goal.com USA's Facebook fan page!