Olivier Giroud’s second half header sent Arsenal back to the top of the Premier League, as Newcastle’s spirited display ended in defeat.

The Geordies will be disappointed that they didn’t take anything from the game, having enjoyed the best of the first half but failing to make the breakthrough.

In the end though, it was Giroud’s glancing effort from Theo Walcott’s cross that done the damage.

Alan Pardew made one change from the side that comfortably beat Stoke, as Cheick Tiote returned from suspension to replace Hatem Ben Arfa.

The Ivorian was at his dominant best in midfield, too, as Newcastle started well and won the midfield battle comfortably. Mesut Ozil was missing for the visitors and Tiote was able to keep the likes of Santi Cazorla and Jack Wilshere in check.

In terms of attacking, Mathieu Debuchy was by far the home side’s biggest threat. Twice the French full back made excellent runs in behind the Arsenal back four but narrowly failed to latch onto the passes.

At the other end, Arsenal were far from their fluid best as they struggled to break down a stubborn Magpies defence. The only time Tim Krul was forced into action was to easily save Thomas Rosicky’s tame effort.

The longer the first half went, the more Newcastle grew as an attacking force and they came closest to making the breakthrough on the stroke of half-time.

Vurnon Anita showed great anticipation to win the ball back high up the pitch and feed Moussa Sissoko, who powered a good looking shot towards the top corner. Wojciech Szczesny tipped the effort over the bar and from the resulting corner; Debuchy’s header came back off the bar.

The second half lacked the fluidity of the first and it was fitting that the goal came through a set piece. There were calls for a foul on Anita in the build up, but referee Lee Probert let it go and opted to give a free kick against Tiote.

Walcott floated it in and Giroud managed to get the faintest of touches to divert it past Krul, giving Arsenal the lead.

The Gunners nearly doubled their advantage when Walcott received Wilshere’s pass inside the area but Krul saved the England winger’s effort. The rebound almost found the net but Debuchy was on hand to head off the line.

Hatem Ben Arfa had been introduced just as Arsenal scored the opener, but couldn’t find the form he enjoyed against Stoke on Boxing Day. A trademark jinking run got the Frenchman into a good area inside the box but instead of finding a team mate with a cutback, Ben Arfa wasted a shot into the side netting.

The closest Newcastle came to scoring perhaps summed up their day in front of goal. Szczesny mishit a clearance into Loic Remy and the rebound trickled narrowly wide.

There were claims for a penalty late on when Debuchy was brought down by Mathieu Flamini but Newcastle’s luck was well and truly out, as Probert again waved away the seemingly strong protests and Arsenal hung on for the win.