Arsenal came through a real test of their title mettle by claiming a 1-0 win at Newcastle United.
The Magpies came into the game on the crest of a wave, having won seven of their last nine games, but a second-half goal from Olivier Giroud was enough to claim the three points for Arsene Wenger’s men.
The first notable chance was carved out by Newcastle thanks to a raking ball from Yohan Cabaye, but Mathieu Debuchy did not do justice to the pass, as his first touch was awful and the ball ran away from him.
Arsenal found openings tough to fashion in the first half, with the Gunners restricted to long-range shots from the likes of Jack Wilshere, Tomas Rosicky and Santi Cazorla which were no real threat to Tim Krul.
Openings kept falling to Newcastle defender Debuchy. He got round the back from a free-kick midway through the opening half, but he sliced his shot wide of target.
Arsenal had Wojciech Szczesny to thank for keeping them on level terms before halftime, as the keeper was forced to dive high to his right to tip away a stinging drive from Moussa Sissoko.
From the resulting corner, another chance fell to Debuchy, who sent a looping header against the crossbar, and Mike Williamson was unable to turn the loose ball home.
Giroud was kept quiet by Williamson and Fabricio Coliccini in the opening half, while he picked up a booking for a foul. However, he found the goal he and Arsenal craved on 65 minutes.
The Frenchman got in between the two defenders on 65 minutes to meet a delightful chipped free-kick from Theo Walcott and glanced the ball beyond Krul.
Arsenal had a chance to put the game to bed 20 minutes from time, but Debuchy did superbly to get back and nod Walcott’s chip off the line.
There was a moment of alarm for Arsenal 10 minutes from time as a clearance from Szczesny smashed Remy in the face but dribbled a yard wide of the open goal.
Arsenal will welcome in 2014 as Premier League leaders, and there is growing confidence that this could be the Gunners’ year.
Arsenal grinding out a win when their performance barely warranted it. The sign of..... champions?— Graham Ruthven (@grahamruthven) December 29, 2013
Arsenal were without midfield playmaker Mesut Ozil on account of a shoulder injury. And in a post-game interview with broadcaster Sky Sports, reported by the Mirror’s Ben Burrows, the midfielder is facing a spell on the sidelines.
"I would have loved Mesut Ozil here, but he fell on his shoulder and he will be out for two to three games,” Wenger said.
Mathieu Debuchy: B+
Carried an attacking threat, as three of Newcastle's best chances of the first half fell his way. But he was more than accomplished in his day job of defending. The right-back gave provided cover for his centre-backs when required, while also making a number of timely tackles, and headed an effort off the line.
Bacary Sagna: B+
Debuchy’s opposite number had a fine game of his own. His defensive stature appeared to deter Yoan Gouffran from making any sort of attacking foray down the left-hand side for the Magpies.
Olivier Giroud: B-
The forward was starved of service in the opening half and was second-best in his battle with the Newcastle back four, while he also picked up a booking for kicking out at Cheik Tiote. However, he had the last word by slipping away from his marker at a free-kick and nodding home the winner.
It was a welcome goal for Giroud, after seven games without one in all competitions, but there is a feeling he is still in need of assistance.
Confidence-boosting goal for Giroud today, but let's be honest: Arsenal still need to sign another striker. Can't lead line alone all season— Michael Cummings (@MikeCummings37) December 29, 2013
Arsenal play host to Cardiff on New Year's Day, which precedes a North London derby with Tottenham in the third round of the FA Cup.
Newcastle welcome Cardiff City to St James' Park in the FA Cup, but before that they travel to West Brom in the Premier League on New Year's Day.
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