(Adds later games)
LONDON, Jan 1 (Reuters) - Late goals from Nicklas Bendtner and Theo Walcott spared Arsenal's blushes and kept them top of the Premier League in a 2-0 win over Cardiff City as Manchester City and Chelsea stayed hot on their heels with victories on Wednesday.
The culmination of England's congested festive schedule produced a tired display from the north Londoners who threatened to draw a blank for the second consecutive home game before Bendtner bundled home in the 88th minute and Walcott made sure of the points in stoppage time.
Manchester City had briefly gone top after subduing a battling Swansea City 3-2 as Chelsea beat Southampton 3-0 and Liverpool won 2-0 at home to Hull City.
Fernando Torres became the first Chelsea striker to score a league away goal in 13 months as they maintained their title push and Christmas Day leaders Liverpool regained a top-four spot with as Luis Suarez netted for the 20th time this season.
A Leighton Baines penalty in stoppage time rescued a 1-1 draw at Stoke City for Everton, who dropped to fifth, and Newcastle United stumbled in a 1-0 defeat at West Bromwich Albion.
Arsenal, with 45 points from 20 games, stayed one point clear of Manchester City and two ahead of Chelsea in third with Liverpool a further four points off the pace in fourth.
At the other end of the table, Fulham edged 10-man West Ham United 2-1 and the east London side stayed second from bottom as Sunderland remain rooted to the foot of the table after losing 1-0 at home to Aston Villa.
Crystal Palace are 18th after a 1-1 draw with 15th-placed Norwich City.
Champions Manchester United host Tottenham Hotspur in the late game. (Reporting by Toby Davis; editing by Ed Osmond)