England needed a late try from Matt Banahan to beat a dogged Argentina and prevent a sluggish autumn campaign from unravelling at Twickenham.
An error-strewn display was lacking in ingenuity and invention but Martin Johnson's side escaped with a victory.
Jonny Wilkinson's boot allowed England to go to the break at 9-9, with Martin Rodriguez replying for the Pumas.
A tense second half was scoreless until Banahan's 69th-minute try gave England a win they scarcely deserved.
And with New Zealand the next visitors to Twickenham, England can take little comfort from another dismal display.
We have to find a way to improve - Johnson
England, wearing their new purple second kit, went into the match as the eighth best team in the world - two places behind Argentina - and even that ranking looked generous after a match in which they struggled to show any signs of progress from last week's defeat by Australia.
Once again, they seemed to prefer to kick rather than run with the ball, while Ugo Monye, playing out of position at full-back, looked like a fish out of water until switched to the wing.
The 78,743 fans who turned up to Twickenham on a wet and blustery day were treated to a prolonged spell of kick tennis early on before the energetic Lewis Moody - one of the few England players who can be proud of his display - managed to charge down Santiago Fernandez's clearance.
Rodrigo Roncero surges forward for Argentina as they seek a try
From the resulting possession, Wilkinson kicked a fine drop-goal, just as he did last week against Australia, to put England into the lead.
Soon after, England were almost over for their first try of the autumn after Juan Fernandez-Lobbe spilled a kick over the top straight into Mark Cueto's path but the winger was unable to finish the chance, thanks to a great tackle from full-back Horacio Agulla.
Fernandez narrowly missed with a drop-goal attempt of his own but Wilkinson put the 22 drop-out straight into touch to hand the initiative back to Argentina and their scrum eventually won the chance for Rodriguez to level the scores with a penalty.
Rodriguez missed from distance after James Haskell conceded a silly penalty at the ruck before Wilkinson's long-range penalty edged England ahead again.
Moody unimpressed by England win
A Monye mistake - one of many on a day to forget from the Harlequins winger - under the high ball led to Haskell conceding another penalty for being offside - and this time Rodriguez made no mistake with the boot.
An ironic cheer rang out from the Twickenham stands when Monye finally took a kick on the full, this time from a missed Fernandez drop-goal, while boos were heard soon after when Shane Geraghty kicked out on the full.
Another missed penalty from Rodriguez let England off the hook after Tom Croft was penalised for holding on as a move lacking any dynamism whatsoever petered out.
Haskell and Monye both knocked-on in quick succession, while Wilkinson's poor form kicking from hand continued. Yet another penalty conceded at the scrum resulted in Rodriguez kicking Argentina 9-6 ahead but Wilkinson levelled late in the half.
This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.