Arsenal 1-0 Newcastle: Gunners earn win thanks to Laurent Koscielny
By Oliver Yew
Last Updated: 02/01/16 9:45pm
Arsenal went two points clear at the top of the Premier League after edging past Newcastle 1-0 at the Emirates Stadium.
Newcastle, who paid tribute to former goalkeeper Pavel Srnicek by wearing special t-shirts before the game following his death earlier this week, were much the better side in the first half and could have been ahead just before the break but for a superb stop from Petr Cech to deny Georginio Wijnaldum.
The visitors kept threatening after the break and Arsene Wenger's side needed Cech to keep out Wijnaldum again before they finally broke the deadlock in the 72nd minute thanks to Laurent Koscielny's close range strike.
Steve McClaren's side continued to be wasteful in front of goal as Aleksandar Mitrovic and Dutchman Wijnaldum missed the target with headers and it proved costly as the Gunners held on to start 2016 with a victory to move clear of nearest challengers Leicester, who drew with Bournemouth, at the top.
After a moment's applause in memory of Srnicek it was the league leaders who came flying out of the traps with Hector Bellerin, who was in acres of space down the right, pulling the ball back for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, but the England forward could not make clean contact with his shot.
The visitors held firm amid the Arsenal onslaught in the opening 20 minutes and gradually came into the game with first Wijnaldum, and then Jack Colback, testing Cech in quick succession.
McClaren's side grew in confidence and their performance was silencing the home crowd as Perez flashed a shot across goal in the 25th minute.
Arsenal looked flat but they nearly broke the deadlock when Oxlade-Chamberlain's pass released Olivier Giroud into the box, but the Frenchman's shot was well blocked by Fabricio Coloccini. However, that was a rare bright spot for the Gunners, who needed Cech to keep them on level terms just before the break.
The Czech Republic international, who broke the Premier League clean sheet record following Arsenal's 2-0 win over Bournemouth last Monday, kept out Mitrovic's over-head kick, before racing off his line to block Wijnaldum's low strike.
Cech was back in action shortly after the break and this time Wijnaldum was put clean through, but again the goalkeeper was quickly off his line to deny him.
Arsenal were coming under serious pressure but the visitors continued to miss chances as Mitrovic turned over Perez's cross from five yards out.
The home side responded five minutes after the interval but Aaron Ramsey could not beat Rob Elliot in the Newcastle goal as the frustration continued to build for Wenger and the home faithful.
Newcastle kept creating the better chances but they just could not find the target with Chancel Mbemba heading well over the bar from the centre of the area.
And with just over five minutes remaining the missed opportunities came back to haunt McClaren and his side as Koscielny latched onto Giroud's header to tap home from close range.
Despite going behind, Newcastle still pushed on in search of an equaliser but they continued to be wasteful with Mitrovic and Wijnaldum both missing the target with headers.
At the other end Ramsey and Mesut Ozil both missed good opportunities to finish the game off but they were not costly as Arsenal started the year with a crucial three points.
Soccer Saturday verdict - Matt Le Tissier
Arsenal were very fortunate today. This will be one of those performances they may look back on at the end of the season, if they do go on and win the title, as a key result because they were nowhere near their best.
Newcastle were very good and deserved at least a point. They had some very good chances this afternoon, and they couldn't take any of them and in the end they got punished. When the opportunity came along for the Gunners, though, Laurent Koscielny was far more clinical than any of the Newcastle forwards.
Arsenal: Cech (9), Bellerin (6), Mertesacker (6), Koscielny (8), Monreal (7), Ramsey (6), Flamini (6), Ozil (7), Oxlade-Chamberlain (5), Giroud (6), Walcott (6).
Subs: Gibbs (5), Chambers (5), Campbell (6).
Newcastle: Elliot (7), Janmaat (7), Mbemba (7),Coloccini (7), Dummett (7), Sissoko (6), Tiote (7), Colback (6), Wijnaldum (8), Perez (7), Mitrovic (7).
Subs: Thauvin (5), De Jong (5).
Man of the match: Petr Cech