Koscielny goal clinches unconvincing Arsenal victory over Newcastle
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Arsenal 1 Newcastle Utd 0
Laurent Koscielny’s second-half strike rescued Arsenal as they edged a scrappy encounter with Newcastle to stay top of the Premier League.
The Gunners defender – who has now scored three times in his last five appearances against Newcastle – struck 18 minutes from time, steering home Olivier Giroud’s knockdown from close range.
That was enough to take Arsenal two points clear of Leicester, who were held to a 0-0 draw against Bournemouth – although it was harsh on the Geordies, who deserved at least a share of the spoils.
Arsenal made the early running and might have opened the scoring in the third minute when Paul Dummett’s slip allowed Hector Bellerin to charge forward and cross for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who speared his volley wide.
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The Gunners’ pace, particularly on the right-hand side, caused plenty of problems, but that initial impetus began to fade as the visitors settled into some semblance of midfield rhythm.
Newcastle started to threaten sporadically, with Petr Cech diving to parry Georginio Wijnaldum’s glancing header and reacting to save the rebound from Jack Colback.
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Ayoze Perez flashed a scissor-kick wide of the angle, while Cech had to be alert to foil Wijnaldum once again after Koscielny had miscued his attempted clearance.
With the rain teeming down, the opportunities for flowing football were limited and, despite a chance for Giroud, whose shot was charged down, Arsenal could not coax a single save from Magpies goalkeeper Rob Elliot prior to the half-time whistle.
By contrast, Newcastle should have taken the lead soon after the restart as Colback’s pass split the home defence and found Wijnaldum in the clear, but Cech advanced to smother the chance.
And Arsenal’s back line was exposed again almost immediately when Perez turned back Moussa Sissoko’s cross for Aleksandar Mitrovic, who could only nudge the ball over from close range.
Elliot was finally called into action to keep out a low close-range attempt from Aaron Ramsey, but the Geordies still looked the more likely to score and went close again through a Chancel Mbemba header that flew over.
Yet the breakthrough came out of the blue – and at the other end – as Ozil’s corner was half-cleared and Giroud headed it on for Koscielny to prod past Elliot.
There were further opportunities for both sides, with Ramsey going close twice for Arsenal and Mitrovic and Wijnaldum both heading over at the other end.
And Cech underlined his worth again deep into injury time, fielding a volley from substitute Siem de Jong to ensure a winning start to 2016 for Arsenal – just.
Arsenal: Cech; Bellerin, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Monreal; Ramsey, Flamini; Oxlade-Chamberlain (Campbell 68), Ozil, Walcott (Gibbs 81); Giroud (Chambers 89).