Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger believes his Premier League pacesetters should now be considered serious title contenders after the Gunners overcame a hard-working and physical Newcastle side at St. James' Park.
The Frenchman was left in no doubt as to the credentials of this team, which showed a spirit and fight not normally associated with his selections in the past.
Colin Young of the Daily Mail Online noted Wenger's delight after the match:
This was a very intense game against a good Newcastle team who made it a very big physical challenge.
We threw our bodies in the box. There is something in the team which is special on that front. On the mental front we have been questioned many times.
There’s a great solidarity and spirit in the side.
Olivier Giroud's headed goal was the difference between the sides and ensured the North Londoners stayed at the top of the pile as we enter 2014.
Newcastle fans may question the award of the free-kick that led to the winner, but to do so is to take the shine off of the quality of Arsenal's performance against another of the Premier League's in-form teams.
Much of the focus this season has been on the deadline-day capture of Mesut Ozil from Real Madrid—and rightly so. The elegant German has been the talisman to Arsenal's wonderful first half of the season.
However, it's the form of another of Germany's sons that has slipped under the radar on more than one occasion.
Per Mertesacker has gone quietly about his business but has literally been head and shoulders above the opposition in a number of games. His partnership with the outstanding Laurent Koscielny has been the rock on which Ozil, Jack Wilshere et al have built.
For years we were too young to resist this type of pressure, but we have always been up there. Last year in this period we were out of the championship race. In 2013 we have been quite consistent.
in the last 15 minutes we’ve shown another aspect of our team, the resilience and fight.
In a tightly congested Premier League top six, Liverpool fell from leaders to fifth in the space of four days over the Christmas period.
Clearly, any dropped points at this stage of the season will have instant ramifications, but the Arsenal manager remains unconcerned:
We’ve come out of a very difficult run of games. We played Everton, Manchester City, Chelsea, West Ham and now Newcastle and we dropped some points, but I felt it was more down to the heavy schedule and short recovery time rather than the difficulty of the games.
We believe in ourselves and are determined to give our best absolutely and to turn back at the end of this season and think we have given our best.
A number of players have been linked with moves to the Emirates during January, but given their current form, the manager may not want to risk upsetting the equilibrium of the side and the "feel-good factor" currently enveloping the red half of North London.