OLIVIER Giroud condemned Newcastle United to defeat this afternoon – and sent Arsenal back to the top of the Premier League.
Giroud scored the only goal of a closely-contested game at St James’s Park.
The striker found the net with a header midway through the second half.
And Newcastle threw everything at Arsenal in the last few minutes, including goalkeeper Tim Krul, who went up for two corners.
But they couldn’t find a way past Arsene Wenger’s side, who climbed above Manchester City in the table.
The result leaves United seventh in the league ahead of the club’s New Year’s Day visit to West Bromwich Albion.
Newcastle manager Alan Pardew left Hatem Ben Arfa out of his starting XI to accommodate Cheik Tiote, who mised the Boxing Day victory over Stoke City through suspension.
And Tiote had his work cut out in the early stages.
Arsenal had the better of the opening exchanges, and saw more of the ball, but they struggled to create clearcut chances against United, who defended deep, and in numbers.
Newcastle slowly grew in confidence as the half wore on. Mathieu Debuchy, aided by Moussa Sissoko, launched a series of raids down the right-hand side.
United came close to a breakthrough in first-half injury time.
A mistake from Jack Wilshere led to a quick break forward. A shot from Yohan Cabaye was blocked, and visting goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny did well to tip a fierce long-range effort from Sissoko over the bar.
And Debuchy crashed a header against the crossbar from the resulting corner.
Chances proved hard to come by for both teams after the break, and Ben Arfa replaced an exhausted Yoan Gouffran in the 62nd minute.
But Newcastle went behind three minutes after Ben Arfa’s introduction.
Tiote conceded a free kick for a foul on Santi Carzola deep in United’s half, and Theo Walcott clipped the ball into the box, and an unmarked Giroud headed it past a helpless Krul.
Shola Ameobi replaced Vurnon Anita in the 74th minute, and Massadio Haidara came on in place of Sissoko for the last 10 minutes.
Loic Remy almost got an equaliser when Szczesny’s clearance struck him full on the face, but the ball rolled agonisingly wide of goal.
And Ameobi couldn’t get a proper connection on a header from a right-wing Davide Santon cross.
United piled on the pressure in the dying minutes, but couldn’t conjure up an equalising goal.
NEWCASTLE UNITED: Krul; Debuchy, Coloccini, Williamson, Santon; Anita (Shola Ameobi, 74), Tiote, Cabaye; Sissoko (Haidara, 79), Remy, Gouffran (Ben Arfa, 62). Subs not used: Elliot, Yanga-Mbiwa, Sammy Ameobi, Cisse.
ARSENAL: Szczesny, Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Gibbs (Arteta, 70), Flamini, Rosicky, Wilshere, Walcott (Jenkinson, 80), Cazorla, Giroud (Bendtner, 86). Subs not used: Fabianski, Ryo, Gnabry, Podolski.
Goals: Giroud 65
Bookings: Giroud 36, Flamini 75, Rosicky 76
Referee: Lee Mason (Bolton)
Attendance: 52,161 (3,150 Arsenal)
For reaction to this afternoon’s game, see tomorrow’s Gazette