Arsenal: Szczesny, Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Gibbs, Flamini, Rosicky, Wilshere, Walcott, Cazorla, Giroud
Subs: Fabianski, Jenkinson, Arteta, Ryo, Bendtner, Gnabry, Podolski
Olivier Giroud was Arsenal’s hero as the Gunners secured a second win in three days on the road with a hard-fought 1-0 result at Newcastle United. The Frenchman headed home a Theo Walcott free-kick to break the deadlock just past the hour mark and Arsene Wenger’s side soaked up sustained pressure late on to cling on to a vital victory.
Arsenal began the game knocking the ball about confidently. On three occasions inside the first six minutes Kieran Gibbs nipped behind the Newcastle defence on the left but on each occasion his pass failed to pick out a player in red.
Off the ball Wilshere, Rosicky and Flamini were quick to close down in midfield forcing Newcastle to rush their passing although the home side did nearly find a direct route through our back four with a long ball which caught Kieran Gibbs napping. Only Mathieu Debuchy’s failure to control the pass meant we escaped a dangerous situation.
As the momentum ebbed and flowed Newcastle had the first effort on target, a header by Sissoko on 16 minutes, before Wilshere fired over six minutes later with Arsenal’s first shot in anger. From similar positions just outside the box both Rosicky and Cazorla hit left foot efforts straight at Krul. Giroud then tried to repeat the trick with a curler of his own but his effort went wide just after the half hour mark.
The Frenchman had previously required treatment on his ankle following a nasty challenge from Williamson who’d slid into the back of our striker as we looked to break. Referee Lee Probert deemed it a fair tackle although replays showed it definitely deserved a yellow card.
Giroud was in the wars again four minutes later when he appeared to turn his right ankle challenging Tiote. More treatment was needed and to add insult to the injury he also got a booking for the foul. Unbelievably, Tiote continued to escape the referee’s book despite taking out Flamini and catching Walcott with his arm in quick succession.
Szczesny was called into action in injury-time of the first period as Sissoko crashed a rocket from 25-yards which required the Pole to tip over and from the resulting corner Debuchy’s looped header clipped the bar. The two efforts were the closest either side came to breaking the deadlock in a tight and fraught opening 45 minutes.
The home side picked up where they left off at the start of the second period, snapping into challenges and denying us anytime to settle on the ball. We were left shooting from range, Flamini had one particularly wild effort, or attempting ambitious balls into the box which were met by nothing but thin air or Tim Krul.
On 64 minutes we finally broke the deadlock. Tiote fouled Cazorla about 40-yards from goal and from the resulting freekick Theo Walcott whipped in a curling effort to the penalty spot which Giroud glanced past Krul. The French striker looked relieved to have broken his drought, it was his first goal in seven games and he was mobbed by his teammates.
Giroud had a golden chance to double the lead within four minutes. Cazorla fed Wilshere who quickly slipped in Walcott. Bearing down on goal, the England man’s initial effort was blocked by the grounded Krul but when the ball came back to him he looped an effort goalwards which required Debuchy (?) to clear off the line. With the goal gaping and the rebound dropping at his feet just yards out Giroud snatched at his effort and the chance was gone.
Mikel Arteta was sent on for Kieran Gibbs, who presumably had a problem, and Flamini went to left-back. In response Ameobi came on for Anita, the home side having already sent Ben Arfa on for Gouffran, as Alan Pardew looked to rescue the game with 16 minutes remaining.
Flamini picked up his sixth booking of the campaign for a foul on Ben Arfa, Rosicky joined him in the book for a challenge on Cabaye. Massadio Haidara came on for Sissoko, before Wenger settled on a 3-5-2 formation removing Walcott and sending on Jenkinson. Sagna moved into the middle alongside Mertesacker and Koscielny who were both having terrific games.
With nine minutes remaining Szczesny got let off the hook big time. Dilly-dallying over a back pass from Flamini the Pole hammered his clearance straight at Loic Remy and watched helplessly as the rebound rolled inches wide of his goal. After his mistake at West Ham it was another rocky moment for the club’s number one.
Giroud was replaced by Bendtner with five minutes left as attack after attack was mounted by the home side. It was real backs to the wall stuff as we just hoofed the ball clear whenever possible and tried to wind down the clock.
Despite an absolute barrage in the closing moments the Gunners managed to cling on to victory returning themselves to top spot in the Premier League. It wasn’t a pretty game, but it is a massive three points. The type of game which makes potential champions.
Happy New Year everybody.