Arsenal have reached the halfway point of their season, and they'll head into the second half and the new year on the top of the Premier League table. They struggled to create chances without Aaron Ramsey and Mesut Özil on Saturday, but they defended well and made the most of their limited opportunities, squeaking out a 1-0 win over Newcastle United.
The beginning of the first half featured very few chances for either side, with both teams packing their midfields with players who are known for things other than their creativity. Lee Probert's officiating was an early story, as he let both teams play and was hesitant to call fouls or book players. Newcastle perhaps should have had a free kick on the edge of the penalty area five minutes from halftime, and meanwhile Cheik Tiote committed a handful of yellow card offenses, none of which he was booked for.
Newcastle were unlucky not to score at the end of the first half, with Wojciech Szczesny and the crossbar coming up big for the Gunners. Moussa Sissoko had a laser of a shot tipped over the bar by Szczesny in first half stoppage time and Mathieu Debuchy was denied by the woodwork on the ensuing corner.
The hosts looked like the more dangerous team early in the second half, but were undone by some poor set piece marking in the 65th minute. Theo Walcott set up the game's only goal with a perfectly placed free kick to the center of the box, finding the head of Giroud, who headed down past Tim Krul.
Arsenal had some scary moments at the end, but did enough to hold on for all three points. Szczesny almost gave away the lead when a poorly-executed clearance hit Loic Remy and bounced back towards his net, but the ball dribbled wide. Newcastle pushed everyone -- including Krul -- forward in desperate search of a late equalizer, but the Gunners defended late set pieces well to keep a clean sheet.
Newcastle: Krul, Santon, Williamson, Coloccini, Debuchy, Anita (Ameobi 74'), Tiote, Gouffran (Ben Arfa 62'), Cabaye, Sissoko (Haidara 79'), Remy
Arsenal: Szczesny, Gibbs (Arteta 71'), Koscielny, Mertesacker, Sagna, Wilshere, Flamini, Cazorla, Rosicky, Walcott (Jenkinson 80'), Giroud (Bendtner 86')
Goals: Giroud (65')