Laurent Koscielny gave Arsenal a vital 1-0 win over Newcastle in a sleepy game played in a downpour in London.
The result, combined with the scoreless draw at King Power between Leicester and ten-man Bournemouth, saw Arsenal gain ground atop the Premier League, moving two points clear of the Foxes and six clear of chasing Manchester City. City will try to eat into that lead in today's late game at Watford.
Both teams seemed to be suffering a post-New Year's hangover, with much of the match played in the middle of the field to little effect. Arsenal started the day atop the table and had a chance to keep their perch with a win. But from the outset, they looked disjointed and laggard, with a couple early flurries spurned. Hector Bellerin was the most active member of the team in that early going, driving down the right flank and serving in a few decent balls, none of which met another player.
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Newcastle weathered that early pressure and started to make a couple chances of their own, though in truth neither keeper was seriously tested. Ayoze Perez sent a speculative whack across the face of Petr Cech's goal halfway through the first period and Aleksandar Mitrovic was set up for an acrobatic overhead attempt that was dinked right to Cech.
There were few moments to remark upon at all for Arsenal, with Fabricio Coloccini cutting out the one half-chance from Olivier Giroud.
It took until the second half for a really fine chance to fall, and when it did it came to Newcastle. Georgino Wijnaldum was sprung through a flat back line by Moussa Sissoko, only to be stifled brilliantly by Cech in the 48th minute. Sissoko sprung the next attack, passing a fine ball to Perez that Mitrovic inexplicably houked well over the crossbar from two yards.
Arsenal, in contrast, labored. As chances began to accrue for the Magpies, with Chancel Mbemba ripping a free header high and wide in the 65th minute, the unrest in the crowd grew. Arsene Wenger responded by throwing on Joel Campbell in the place of the ineffective Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
But Koscielny finally broke the deadlock off a corner kick. Perez tried to clear the ball but only headed it straight into the air, allowing Giroud to sneak over, and beat Coloccini to head the ball ahead to the post. Koscielny was unmarked to tap it home past a helpless Rob Elliot.
Mitrovic had a chance to draw Newcastle level, but spurned it, blazing a shot over the bar in the 80th minute. But the miss of the game came at the death, when Ozil was able to spring the counterattack, only to see Aaron Ramsey, in alone, miss the entire net.
In the end, it was a nervy but critical win for the Gunners, who played poorly but won anyway. For a team that has struggled to turn their consistency into league titles, this match may yet prove to be a vital result.