A hard fought 1-0 win over Newcastle took Arsenal to the top of the league as 2013 headed towards a close
The away fans had to wait until midway through the second half for Olivier Giroud to break the deadlock, with the forward getting his head on the end of Theo Walcott free kick and directing it past Tim Krul.
The Gunners then had to withstand a barrage of late pressure as the Magpies came at them, with some outstanding defensive performances ensuring they claimed the clean sheet that would give them three points.
Below are the Arsenal player ratings from the game:
Wojciech Szczesny 6/10 - Saved well from Mo Sissoko as half-time approached. In second half missed a lofted cross to the back post that could have proved costly. Nearly had another blunder late on when his goalkick hit Remy and almost bounced back into the goal.
Bacary Sagna 7/10 - Always eager to get down the right-hand side and had little to deal with from the Newcastle left. Crossing was a little off today, but defended resolutely when he needed to.
Kieran Gibbs 6/10 - Like Sagna, pushed forward early on but with little success in end product. Struggled to stop Debuchy getting past him in the first period. Came off injured with 20 minutes left.
Per Mertesacker 8/10 -MOTM- The big German looked solid again at St James' Park. Missed a good volleying opportunity from a first-half set piece, but was key as Newcastle pumped balls into the box late on. One of the top defenders in the league right now, what a turn around from his early days at the club.
Laurent Koscielny 7/10 - Generally looked assured in his return from injury, often finding himself in the right place at the right time. Was guilty of a sloppy pass that gifted possession to the home side, but apart from that did little wrong.
Mattieu Flamini 7/10 - At his destructive best against Newcastle's forward and midfield play, sometimes with some risky challenges. Got away with a poor challenge against Sissoko that could have been a free-kick on the edge of the Arsenal area, and then could have been penalised for holding back Debuchy in the area. Booked for a challenge on Hatem Ben Arfa. This was the kind of performance necessary to get the result.
Tomas Rosicky 7/10 - Was a big call for Rosicky to be picked over Arteta, and it looked the right decision as the little Czech took part in plenty of the creative work for Arsenal. Had one shot from distance that sailed wide. Seemed to get riled up by some of the Newcastle play, and was booked with 15 minutes left.
Jack Wilshere 7/10 - A big game for Wilshere with fellow long-term Arsenal midfielder Ozil and Ramsey out, this was a chance for him to take centre stage. Looked eager to get involved following his recent ban, and nearly set up an Arsenal second with Krul and then Debuchy saving from Walcott.
Santi Cazorla 7/10 - Started out left but moved inside whenever possible where he had more effect. Also shot from distance straight at Krul, as Arsenal were restricted to long range efforts in the first half. Enjoyed some strong possession in the second period and looked dangerous.
Theo Walcott 6/10 - Less involved than against West Ham, at least for the first half. Floated a free kick for Giroud to nod in for the Frenchman's goal. Had a chance to score with two quickfire efforts, Krul saving the first low attempt and then Debuchy heading off the line via the crossbar.
Olivier Giroud 6/10 - On the receiving end of a heavy challenge from Mike Williamson midway through the second hald and struggled to provide an outlet for much of the game. Booked soon after for a challenge that turned his own ankle. Looked to be having another frustrating day until he nodded in Walcott's free kick.
Mikel Arteta 70' 6/10: Came on for an injured Gibbs, with Flamini moving to left back. Adopted a fairly defensive role as Newcastle pushed for an equaliser.
Carl Jenkinson 80' 6/10: Replaced Walcott for the last few minutes to shore up the Arsenal defence. Missed the chance for a quick throw in when Bendtner was clean through.
Nicklas Bendtner 86' 6/10: The Dane gave Giroud a couple of minutes rest. Was crying out for a quick throw from Jenkinson with Krul dashing back to his goal line.
image: © Ronnie Macdonald