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Olivier Giroud grabbed the only goal as Arsenal ground out victory at Newcastle United and returned to the Premier League summit going into the New Year.

The Toon more than matched their visitors throughout a contest that made up for a lack of goalmouth action with committed performances from several key players on both sides.

Magpies manager Alan Pardew named the same XI that beat Manchester United three weeks ago, so Cheick Tiote returned from suspension. Hatem Ben Afra dropped to the bench in the only change from the 5-1 win over nine-man Stoke City on Boxing Day.

Arsene Wenger meanwhile made four changes from the away win at West Ham. The Gunners lost midfielders Aaron Ramsey and Mesut Ozil to thigh and shoulder problems. Mikel Arteta was a substitute whilst defender Thomas Vermaelen dropped out altogether. Mathieu Flamini, Laurent Koscielny, Tomas Rosicky and Jack Wilshere returned.

Newcastle could slip a place down to eighth if Tottenham Hotspur beat Stoke, but – no matter the result between Chelsea and Liverpool – Arsenal are top dogs. This gritty performance had the hallmark of potential Premier League champions.

Who impressed the WhatCulture sports team though? We’ve rated both Magpies and Gunners players. Click next to see them, starting with Newcastle.

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This article was first posted on December 29, 2013