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January 02, 2016

LONDON (AP) Arsenal gained a two-point lead at the top of the English Premier League by overcoming Newcastle 1-0 at Emirates Stadium on Saturday.

Laurent Koscielny converted powerfully from close range midway through the second half after Olivier Giroud won a header from a corner in what was a largely unconvincing performance from Arsene Wenger's side.

Until the goal, Newcastle had played with a confidence belying its 18th position in the standings, with Arsenal having goalkeeper Petr Cech to thank for the score staying goalless.

Victory establishes a two-point advantage for Arsenal over Leicester, which drew 0-0 against Bournemouth.

''We played against a very good Newcastle team who had a convincing performance,'' Arsenal manager Wenger said. ''On our side, we have shown qualities that are more mental today. Organization, dig deep, wait for your chance to score. It tests your team on a different aspect.''

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Newcastle's best chances fell to attacking midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum, who was kept from opening the scoring by a good save from Cech after a glancing header in the first half.

Five minutes into the second, Wijnaldum broke clear of the Arsenal defense through a pass by Aleksandar Mitrovic in a Newcastle counterattack but Cech was quickly off his line to narrow the angle and saved excellently.

''He made two big saves,'' Wenger said of his goalkeeper. ''He is calm and never panics. We needed that today.''

Newcastle still had chances to get back into the game after Koscielny scored in the 72nd.

Mitrovic headed narrowly over the crossbar in the final minutes, as did Wijnaldum, while at the other end Newcastle goalkeeper Rob Elliot made a fantastic save from a low shot from Aaron Ramsey in the last minute.

''The players can't believe it, we controlled and dominated the game after the first 10 minutes,'' Newcastle manager Steve McClaren told the BBC. ''We asked for a performance and the players gave it, but we conceded one soft goal and lost the game. You can't fault the performance, we just have to be more ruthless at both ends.''

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