Arsenal grateful for Petr Cech heroics after narrow win over Newcastle
Arsenal edged to a 1-0 win over Newcastle United at the Emirates on Saturday thanks to a scrappy goal from Laurent Koscielny. After a busy festive period, the Gunners looked somewhat insipid for most of the game, but were able to grab a goal to snatch a vital three points.
Steve McClaren's men will be left ruing a couple of crucial misses, particularly two one-on-one chances either side of halftime. For their part, Arsenal will once again be grateful to Petr Cech, who made several vital saves to help Arsene Wenger's team to their clean sheet.
Arsenal have begun 2016 with a welcome victory, and extended their lead at the top of the Premier League in the process.
Player Ratings (1-10; 10=best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating):
GK Petr Cech, 8 -- Although Koscielny will doubtless be hailed as the hero for breaking the deadlock, Cech's contribution should not be forgotten. He made two point-blank saves, one either side of half-time, to prevent the Gunners falling behind. Once again, the former Chelsea man underlined his importance to the team -- and added another Premier League clean sheet, too.
DF Hector Bellerin, 7 -- The Spaniard started brightly, twice getting in on the overlap behind Paul Dummett. The second time Bellerin really ought to have created a goal for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, but his pull-back was off the ground and difficult to control. After those early scares, Newcastle adjusted their shape somewhat to cope with the full-back's threat.
DF Per Mertesacker, 7 -- After a couple of below-par displays, Mertesacker seemed to be back to something like his usual level against Newcastle. When Arsenal were on the ropes at the start of the second half, he produced a couple of important clearances to keep the scores level.
DF Laurent Koscielny, 7 -- The Frenchman has a handy habit of popping up with important goals for the Gunners, and his toe-poked effort on Saturday felt particularly significant. An intelligent run off the back of his marker allowed him to meet Olivier Giroud's knock-down and find the far corner. His defending was typically solid, but it's undoubtedly his goal-scoring contribution that will be remembered. Against Newcastle, Koscielny demonstrated his value in both penalty areas.
DF Nacho Monreal, 6 -- Recalled to the side after a rest against Bournemouth, Monreal was unusually exposed against the pace and power of Moussa Sissoko. Perhaps the Spaniard's vulnerability could be attributed to the fact that neither Theo Walcott nor Oxlade-Chamberlain, who rotated on the left flank, are particularly accustomed to protecting that wing.
MF Mathieu Flamini, 6 -- Although Flamini put in a couple of crunching tackles, his defensive positioning was suspect in this game. He was often too close to the back four, leaving a gap in the midfield for the likes of Ayoze Perez to exploit. Arsenal fans will hope that the imminent arrival of Egyptian midfielder Mohamed Elneny will provide the midfield with a more secure base.
MF Aaron Ramsey, 6 -- There had been whispers in the build-up to this game that Ramsey had been suffering with a slight muscular injury. That would seem to make sense, as he struggled to cover ground as effectively as usual. Nevertheless, the Welshman ought to have ended the game with a goal; in stoppage time, he waltzed through the Newcastle defence only to side-foot wide from eight yards out.
MF Mesut Ozil, 6 -- The German playmaker was unusually quiet in this game. Wenger had intimated in his pre-match news conference that his star man was feeling somewhat drained. Perhaps that goes some way toward explaining his quiet afternoon.
FW Theo Walcott, 5 -- This was a very low-key display from Walcott. Stationed primarily on the left wing, he was unable to pose much of a threat to the Newcastle back line. When Walcott lacks supply, he doesn't necessarily have the tools to make something happen for himself. Consequently, he was almost anonymous.
FW Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, 6 -- The England international is woefully short of confidence. Although he showcased some breathtaking dribbling skills, powering past his full-back with ease on a couple of occasions, his decision-making and final ball were consistently poor. It was something of a surprise to see him start over Joel Campbell, and on this evidence he is unlikely to retain his place.
FW Olivier Giroud, 7 -- This was far from the Frenchman's best performance of late. He struggled to impose himself on the game, and looked as if the effects of the festive fixture list might have taken their toll on him. Nevertheless, he was still able to make a decisive impact on the game, climbing high to nod down the ball and create the only goal of the game.
FW Joel Campbell, 7 -- The Costa Rican injected some energy into the Arsenal attack after replacing Oxlade-Chamberlain on 68 minutes.
MF Kieran Gibbs, NR -- Replaced Walcott after 81 minutes to offer some cover for Monreal.
MF Calum Chambers, NR -- Came on for Giroud in the 89th minute to help protect the Arsenal defence.
James McNicholas is one of ESPN FC's Arsenal bloggers. You can follow him on Twitter @gunnerblog.