Laurent Koscielny earns hard-fought win for Arsenal
Arsenal laboured to victory over Newcastle to start 2016 with a win and move two points clear at the top of the Barclays Premier League.
The Gunners were largely outplayed by a visiting side desperate to start the new year with a surprise result to lift themselves out of the relegation zone.
Steve McClaren's men certainly created more chances but they were undone when Laurent Koscielny scored his third of the season from close range to secure a 1-0 win for the hosts.
Petr Cech, fresh from sealing the Premier League clean-sheet record, kept out a number of Newcastle chances - most notably Georginio Wijnaldum's early second-half shot.
And it was Arsene Wenger and his players left smiling at the full-time whistle as Koscielny's effort, coupled with Leicester's goalless draw at home to Bournemouth, saw them move clear at the summit.
Twice in the opening two minutes Hector Bellerin was freed down the right for the hosts, using his pace to get into a good crossing position.
The first was turned behind for a corner before Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain failed to make meaningful contact with the second as Wenger's men looked to strike early.
Arsenal were on top but it was their goalkeeper Cech who was forced into the first save of the contest, diving to his right to keep out Wijnaldum's header.
The visitors were enjoying a period of possession as Arsenal struggled to gain momentum, with Olivier Giroud's blocked effort on 37 minutes their first chance of the game.
Cech then had to make two routine saves from Aleksandar Mitrovic and Wijnaldum before half-time and was back in action shortly after the break.
This time Wijnaldum was clean through when he was denied by Cech before Mitrovic turned over Ayoze Perez's cross from less than six yards out.
Arsenal responded but Aaron Ramsey could not turn home Mesut Ozil's cross, with Rob Elliot in the Newcastle goal easily holding onto the midfielder's effort.
With Elliot earning the wrath of the home fans for perceived time-wasting, Wenger started pacing his technical area and remonstrating with referee Anthony Taylor and fourth official Stephen Martin.
But it was still McClaren's side that was creating, and wasting, the chances - this time Chancel Mbemba heading well over the bar from the centre of the area.
All of those missed opportunities came back to haunt the Magpies as Koscielny tapped home from close range with a little over 15 minutes remaining.
Ozil swung in a corner which Giroud eventually nodded towards goal, with France colleague Koscielny nipping in ahead of a dozing Perez to put the Gunners ahead.
Newcastle still pushed on but Mitrovic again missed the target with a difficult header before Ramsey and Ozil both came close to a clinching second goal for the hosts.
TWEET OF THE MATCH
@MesutOzil1088: "An ugly and hard fought win today! But huuuuuuuuge 3 points and still top of the league."
Petr Cech: 8
Hector Bellerin: 6
Per Mertesacker: 6
Laurent Koscielny: 7
Nacho Monreal: 6
Mathieu Flamini: 5
Aaron Ramsey: 5
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain: 5
Mesut Ozil: 6
Theo Walcott: 5
Olivier Giroud: 5
Joel Campbell: 5
Kieran Gibbs: 5
Rob Elliot: 6
Daryl Janmaat: 6
Fabricio Coloccini: 7
Chancel Mbemba: 6
Paul Dummett: 7
Cheick Tiote: 7
Jack Colback: 7
Moussa Sissoko: 7
Georginio Wijnaldum: 7
Ayoze Perez: 6
Aleksandar Mitrovic: 6
Florian Thauvin: 5
Siem De Jong: 5
Petr Cech: He may remember Monday's win over Bournemouth more fondly as the 2-0 win saw him secure the Premier League clean-sheet record - but the 33-year-old was much busier here and kept Arsenal in it as Newcastle created more goalscoring chances.
MOMENT OF THE MATCH
Pavel Srnicek: On an afternoon where the football will soon be forgotten, the standing ovation before the game for Srnicek, the former Newcastle goalkeeper who died last week at the age of 47, was a moving moment as both sets of fans united to pay their respects.
VIEW FROM THE BENCH
Gunners boss Arsene Wenger made three changes from the win over Bournemouth but his side looked tired and, given the number of injuries, he had little in reserve to change things. He will know Arsenal got away with one here but in the past they would have lost on afternoon's such as this. Newcastle were good, but Steve McClaren will be left bemoaning a cutting edge.
MOAN OF THE MATCH
Arsenal's fans were treated to some fine football towards the back end of 2015 but that was quickly forgotten and soon got on the backs of their players when things did not instantly go their way, but they were left chanting about being "top of the league" at the game's conclusion.
WHO'S UP NEXT
Arsenal v Sunderland (FA Cup, Saturday, January 9)
Watford v Newcastle (FA Cup, Saturday, January 9)