Led by an Olivier Giroud brace, Arsenal were able to outlast Newcastle United at St. James’ Park in Premier League play Saturday, 2-1. It was a tale of two halves, as Arsenal seemed to be in full control for the first 45 minutes, while Newcastle applied considerable pressure on the Gunners in the second half.
The victory keeps Arsenal within a point of second-place Manchester City, who cruised past West Bromwich Albion on Saturday, in the Premier League table. The Gunners are just four points back of first-place Chelsea leading into the Blues' match at Hull City on Sunday. Arsene Wenger’s side have won six straight matches, and were able to bounce back after being eliminated by AS Monaco in the Champions League. Saturday's result looked to be in serious jeopardy, with Arsenal defending for much of the entire second half.
Arsenal took the lead in the 24th minute on a free kick swung into the box by Santi Cazorla that was knocked down with a header by Danny Welbeck. Giroud slotted home Welbeck’s header with a clever re-direction off his thigh, sneaking the finish into the lower left corner past goalkeeper Tim Krul. Arsenal had been awarded a number of similar free kicks leading up to the Giroud's strike, prompting perhaps a bit of relief that they were finally able to get on the scoreboard.
Just four minutes later, Giroud would strike again, heading the ball in off a Cazorla corner kick. The French international outmuscled his defender to deliver a well-placed header that Krul couldn’t quite reach. Arsenal ended the half up 2-0 and looked like a side that wouldn’t be challenged.
The second half, however, proved to be a major test for the Gunners. Moussa Sissoko scored his fourth goal of the season with a well-placed shot in the 48th minute to move the score to 2-1. The versatile midfielder hit a one-time shot off a ball played back to the edge of the box by Rémy Cabella, and beat keeper David Ospina.
John Carver’s side looked reinvigorated after the perfect start to the half. Newcastle earned a few great chances in the immediate aftermath of Sissoko’s goal and nearly evened the score, but couldn’t find the back of the net. Newcastle kept attacking and garnering chances, coming excruciatingly close to scoring multiple times.
The Magpies were so dominant that an equalizer seemed inevitable, yet they were consistently denied by Ospina and simply failed to find clean openings in the box. Multiple tries from distance just missed the mark and scrums in the box seemed to bounce Arsenal's way. Perhaps the best chance for an equalizer came in the 86th minute when Ospina barely kicked away a low shot that had deflected and looked destined to score. It was a great reaction-save that preserved the win for the Gunners.
Newcastle registered 14 shots on the day with three on target. It was yet another disappointing result for a club that failed to take a point against Manchester United and Everton in their previous matches.
Arsenal move on to host Liverpool at the Emirates on April 4. Up next for Newcastle is a road match against Sunderland at Stadium of Light on April 5.