Newcastle United 0 Arsenal 1
(Giroud 65)

Arsenal will end 2013, and crucially begin the New Year on top of the Premiership. Olivier Giroud headed the only goal of the game at St.James’ Park midway through the second half for a crucial three points in a game which may not have had the quality the pre match hype may have suggested, but for the Gunners to hold on to the lead as Newcastle laid siege to Wojciech Szczesny’s goals demonstrated the character that this Arsenal side possesses in abundance.

Giroud’s eighth Premiership goal and eleventh in all competitions came after both sides had contrived to produce a lacklustre opening forty five minutes, more remarkable for the manner in which possession was squandered. Mike Williamson was fortunate to get away for a high challenge on Giroud’s right ankle, and on another day the colour of the card he deserved could have been red. Williamson however escaped without so much as a verbal ticking off. After some on field treatment, Giroud got up and would later make Newcastle pay in the most devastating of manners.

Arsene Wenger was able to select Laurent Koscielny to partner Per Mertersacker at the heart of the Gunners’ defence, with Jack Wilshere returning having served his two match ban. Mesut Özil joins Aaron Ramsey on the sidelines having suffered a shoulder injury which will keep the German out for at least two weeks. Ramsey will also be out for the same length of time with a thigh strain.Santi Cazorla started with Mathieu Flamini and Mikel Arteta was amongst the substitutes.

Arsenal quickly got into their stride, passing and moving the ball, but not really incisive enough to trouble a defensive minded Newcastle. Tomas Rosicky let fly with a power shot without troubling Tim Krul, with Wilshere’s drive forcing Krul to clutch the ball.

The home crowd then warmed to Newcastle, tough in the tackle and pushing a high line. Loic Remy crossed for Moussa Sissoko to shoot dangerously, but Szczesny was alert to grab the ball. Sissoko then surged from midfield to strike powerfully but Szczesny was able to save the ball away for the corner. From the resultant corner, Mathieu Debuchy escaped the attentions of Cazorla to head into the woodwork, and that was the warning the Gunners needed going in at half time.

The opening goal duly arrived after 68 minutes when Cheike Tiote fouled Cazorla. Walcott stepped up with a tantalising cross which enabled Giorud to get in between two Newcastle defenders and flick his header beyond the dive of Krul. Moments later, Arsenal should have doubled their advantage when Wilshere fed Walcott. Krul blocked the ball from his prodded shot, and Debuchy cleared off his line from his clever follow up chip. The loose ball then fell to Giroud, but the France striker hit his reactive shot wide.

Having had a hitherto solid display between the sticks, Szczesny almost undid his and his team mates hard work when his kick out clearance hit the advanced Remy full on. The ball had enough momentum on it’s rebound to pass the shocked Arsenal keeper, but relief as it went the wrong side of his upright.

On came Hatem Ben Arfa in what seemed a four pronged Newcastle attack, the home side desperate to get on level terms. Ben Arfa had the better of Flamini who was now at left back, but wasted the home sides best chances for the leveller. Wenger sent on Carl Jenkinson to shore up the defence, and despite further Newcastle pressure, the points deservedly belonged to Arsenal.