Giroud header sends Arsenal back to the top with victory at Newcastle
PUBLISHED: 15:30 29 December 2013 | UPDATED: 21:35 29 December 2013
PA Wire/Press Association Images
Premier League: Newcastle Utd 0 Arsenal 1
Olivier Giroud grabbed his first goal in eight games as the Gunners held on to regain top spot in the Premier League.
The French striker headed in Theo Walcott’s 65th-minute free-kick for the only goal of a tight game – the first time he had found the net since a brace against Southampton in November.
The Gunners had to dig in to secure all three points, but the result – their second successive away victory – ensured that they climbed back in front of Manchester City in the title race.
Arsenal made a bright start, apparently rising above the absences of injured pair Aaron Ramsey and Mesut Ozil as they controlled possession in the centre of the park.
But, although they applied pressure to the Newcastle defence, goalkeeper Tim Krul was rarely troubled, fielding routine efforts from both Tomas Rosicky and Santi Cazorla.
It was the home side who posed the greater threat, with Mathieu Debuchy frequently charging forward from right-back and finding space behind the Gunners’ back line.
Debuchy’s only real chance came on 25 minutes, when he latched onto a deep free-kick, but screwed wide of the target, while Moussa Sissoko’s looping header sailed into the hands of Wojciech Szczesny.
Arsenal survived a scare on the stroke of half-time, when Szczesny leapt to tip Sissoko’s rising 30-yarder behind and, from the resulting corner, Debuchy’s header bounced off the woodwork.
But, apart from a hopeful attempt from Mathieu Flamini that flew well off target, there was no sign that the stalemate might be broken in the early stages of the second period.
However, the Gunners finally made the breakthrough when Cazorla was brought down and Walcott clipped over the free-kick for Giroud to bisect the Newcastle centre-backs and glance a header into the net.
Arsenal almost doubled their lead a few minutes later as Jack Wilshere played Walcott in and, although the initial shot was saved by Krul, the Gunners forward lobbed the prone keeper with the rebound – only for Mike Williamson to stretch and head the ball off the line.
The Magpies rang the changes in their search for an equaliser but, despite having to reshuffle their back four during the last 20 minutes after Kieran Gibbs went off, Arsenal held firm.
The closest they came to conceding was almost a self-inflicted disaster, when a clearance from Szczesny thudded into the face of Loic Remy – but, fortunately for the visitors, the ball spun inches wide.
Substitutes Shola Ameobi and Hatem Ben Arfa both went close as Newcastle piled on the pressure in the closing minutes, but it was not enough to deny the Gunners victory.
Arsenal: Szczesny; Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Gibbs (Arteta 70); Flamini; Walcott (Jenkinson 80), Wilshere, Rosicky, Cazorla; Giroud (Bendtner 86).
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