Laurent Koscielny netted the only goal of the game as Arsenal went two points clear at the top of the Premier League with a less than convincing 1-0 victory over struggling Newcastle United on Saturday.
Koscielny, along with Nacho Monreal and Mathieu Flamini, was one of three Arsenal changes from the 2-0 win over AFC Bournemouth last time out and the France defender’s 72nd-minute effort proved decisive at Emirates Stadium.
Arsenal goalkeeper Petr Cech – who set a new Premier League record of 170 clean sheets in the success over Bournemouth – showed his class once again, superbly denying Georginio Wijnaldum on three occasions prior to Koscielny’s winner.
The breakthrough came following a corner, with Koscielny on hand to prod home from close range from Olivier Giroud’s header.
Defeat means Newcastle – who warmed up with t-shirts adorned with the message ‘Pavel is a Geordie’ following the death of their former keeper Pavel Srnicek earlier this week – see their winless run extended to four matches.
Steve McClaren will likely be encouraged by his side’s spirited performance, although they remain in the bottom three, while Arsenal took advantage after Leicester City could only draw 0-0 with Bournemouth.
The home side began brightly and carved out the opening chance in the second minute when Hector Bellerin got away down the right, but his firm cutback was stabbed wide by a stretching Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
After weathering an early storm, Newcastle gained a foothold in the game and Cech was forced to keep out Wijnaldum’s header low to his right before gathering Jack Colback’s follow-up.
Newcastle began to play with a confidence that belied their lowly league placing, but Arsenal continued to look dangerous and the visitors needed a timely block from Fabricio Coloccini to stop Giroud’s shot following Oxlade-Chamberlain’s clever pass.
Newcastle’s threat remained – Cech saving comfortably from Aleksandar Mitrovic’s overhead kick before the goalkeeper had to rush from his line to deny Wijnaldum with half-time approaching.
Three minutes after the restart, Wijnaldum had a glorious chance to break the deadlock when played through with just Cech to beat, but once again the former Chelsea star came out on top, producing a fine save with his legs.
Newcastle went close again a minute later when Moussa Sissoko’s cross was cushioned across goal by Ayoze Perez, where Mitrovic could only divert the ball over off his knee.
Chancel Mbemba headed wide midway through the half and Newcastle were made to pay for their profligacy 18 minutes from time as Koscielny got free at the back post to turn the ball home.
A Mitrovic header flew over as Newcastle went in search of an equalizer before Rob Elliot kept out Aaron Ramsey – who shot wide soon after – as Arsenal earned themselves some breathing space at the top of the table.