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Olivier Giroud scored the only goal as Arsenal returned to the top of the Barclays Premier League with a 1-0 win over Newcastle United.
Arsene Wenger's men were sternly tested by a Newcastle side harbouring UEFA Champions League ambitions, but they did enough to take the points in a tight encounter. The hosts created the better chances for much of the contest, but a lapse in concentration in defence allowed Giroud the space to glance home the winner after 65 minutes.
The France forward got the faintest of touches to head home his first goal since his double against Southampton last month, sending Arsenal back to the summit. Alan Pardew's men failed to mount a meaningful response, although Loic Remy almost took advantage of an error from Wojciech Szczesny in the closing stages, Arsenal holding on to stretch their unbeaten league run on Tyneside to seven matches.
Cheick Tiote replaced Hatem Ben Arfa in the Newcastle starting XI after missing the win over Stoke City through suspension, while Laurent Koscielny returned to an Arsenal side that was minus the midfield talents of Mesut Ozil and Aaron Ramsey.
Arsenal enjoyed the lion's share of possession in the early stages, but it took over 20 minutes to craft the game's first real opportunity as Jack Wilshere fired over the crossbar from long range. Newcastle full-back Mathieu Debuchy went close with a half-volley at the near post before team-mate Tim Krul was forced into the first save of the match from Tomas Rosicky's drive.
The hosts finished the half the stronger as Moussa Sissoko forced a flying save from Szczesny, with Debuchy heading against the underside of the bar from the resulting corner.
Newcastle carried that momentum into the second half and could have taken the lead but Yoan Gouffran was unable to capitalise on a mix-up in the Arsenal defence caused by Vurnon Anita's right-wing cross seven minutes into the second period.
Arsenal struggled to break down a well-organised defence for much of the encounter. However, after 65 minutes the visitors broke the deadlock when Giroud flicked home Theo Walcott's free-kick. That goal provided Arsenal with added impetus and Wenger's men would have doubled their advantage had it not been for a piece of brilliant defending by Debuchy, who headed Walcott's goalbound effort off the line via the crossbar after Krul had kept out the England forward's initial effort.
Arsenal defended their lead with relative comfort for the most part, but their hard work was nearly undone by Szczesny, whose clearance struck the face of Remy eight minutes from time, only for the ball to trickle narrowly wide of a post.
Newcastle manager Alan Pardew: “We certainly didn’t deserve to get beat. It was a tight game and a very tactical battle. We were as good as them. But it was mistake from a set play that we should have defended better although it was a good quality ball in. And then some moments at the end when we had a chance to get ourselves a point.
“We came out with our confidence renewed even though we lost. You could argue we should have started a bit more positive. It’s very difficult to beat Arsenal. You can’t let them dictate the game, and dictate the midfield.
“It was a real, feel each other out in the first half. Almost like the first three or four rounds of boxing when you are finding your feet. We knew we had assets on the bench, stronger assets but unfortunately we have come out the wrong side of it.”
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger: “It was a very intense game against a good Newcastle team. We got a big physical challenge today. Overall I felt that we were in control of the game until we scored the 1-0. We missed a second chance that would have certainly sealed the game.
“In the last 15 minutes we have shown another aspect of our team - resilience, fight. We threw our bodies in the box. You have seen today a technical aspect of our team that was quite good but as well a mental aspect that was needed in a game of that stature.”
|01 Jan 2014||v West Brom (A)|
|12 Jan 2014||v Man City (H)|
|18 Jan 2014||v West Ham (A)|
|28 Jan 2014||v Norwich (A)|
|01 Feb 2014||v Sunderland (H)|
|08 Feb 2014||v Chelsea (A)|