Arsenal nail Newcastle in a scrappy encounter

Semiu Salami
Semiu Salami
Olivier GIROUD's stunning header

Olivier Giroud’s header earned a scrappy win over Newcastle as Arsenal overtook Manchester City to regain top spot in the Premier League.

The Gunners created several chances early on but Newcastle almost went ahead in first-half stoppage time when Moussa Sissoko’s shot was saved and Mathieu Debuchy headed against the bar.

As the game became disjointed, Giroud nodded in Theo Walcott’s free-kick.

Walcott had a lob cleared off the line before Arsenal withstood late pressure.

The hosts sent goalkeeper Tim Krul forward in search of a late equaliser, with Hatem Ben Arfa firing wide from a great position.

Yet the Gunners will now be top of the league on New Year’s Day for the first time since the 2007-08 season with a point advantage over Manchester City.

That season, their title challenge faded away, but after a run of three games without a win, Arsenal have now earned consecutive victories after a 3-1 triumph win at West Ham on Boxing Day.

After a tough festive period, Arsene Wenger’s team have favourable league games to come against Cardiff, Aston Villa, Fulham and Southampton, sandwiched around a tantalising FA Cup tie against north London rivals, Tottenham.

Striker Giroud underlined his importance, ending a seven-game run without a goal, although the Gunners were also fortunate when Wojciech Szczesny’s clearance smacked into Loic Remy’s head and trickled wide.

Exactly a year ago, Arsenal crushed Newcastle  7-3 at Emirates Stadium, but this was a cagier contest, with both sides looking short of their best.

The visitors carved out several promising opportunities in the first half but, when they did have space to shoot, they either missed the target or failed to test Krul.

Jack Wilshere, who returned after a two-game ban was wasteful. So too were Tomas Rosicky, Santi Cazorla and Per Mertesacker, with Arsenal missing the injured Mesut Ozil.

After sustaining early pressure, Newcastle grew into an absorbing first half as Yohan Cabaye, an Arsenal transfer target last summer, dropped deep to collect the ball.

And it was Alan Pardew’s side who came closest to taking the lead before the break when, in injury time, Sissoko drew a fine save from Szczesny, before Debuchy hit the woodwork from the following corner.

The game became disjointed in the second period but Arsenal took the lead when Cheick Tiote, returning from suspension, fouled Cazorla 30 yards out. Walcott chipped the free-kick into the area, where Giroud nodded his 11th goal of the season.

Arsenal almost doubled the lead when Wilshere found Walcott in space but Krul saved his low effort, before Debuchy headed the rebound off the line.

With Kieran Gibbs being replaced by Mikel Arteta and Mathieu Flamini moving to left-back, Newcastle began to put pressure on the visitors with Flamini fortunate to survive a penalty appeal after hauling down Debuchy.

But, despite the late scare for Szczesny and wastefulness from substitute Ben Arfa, the Gunners defended stoutly to hang on.

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