Giroud steers Arsenal back to the top
Frenchman's goal caps hard-fought victory at Newcastle while Everton keep their top-four bid on track with 2-1 win over Southampton
Olivier Giroud's 11th goal of the season sealed Arsenal's return to the top of the Premier League courtesy of a hard-fought 1-0 win at Newcastle on Sunday.
The Frenchman's 65th-minute header, his first goal for more than a month, proved decisive as Arsene Wenger's men were forced to sweat for a victory that rounds off an impressive year for the north London club.
Meanwhile, Everton kept their bid for a top-four finish firmly on track as Romelu Lukaku's late strike earned a 2-1 win over Southampton.
Arsenal racked-up 82 points in the calendar year - the best in the English top flight - and the character they showed in withstanding a sustained challenge from an in-form Newcastle side will stand them in good stead as they attempt to end their long trophy drought.
The hosts almost snatched a late draw when Wojciech Szczesny's attempted clearance cannoned off French forward Loic Remy to bounce just a yard wide of goal with the Arsenal keeper stranded, but Newcastle tasted defeat for only the second time in 10 games to dent their hopes of a top-six finish.
"There is big satisfaction because we surprised many people and we want to go on from here," said Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger.
"We played two away games and got six points against West Ham and Newcastle and as you can see the team is ready for a fight.
"Let's keep fighting and trying to develop the team."
As they look down on the rest of the league having regained pole position from Manchester City, Arsenal will no doubt reflect that seven of the last nine teams to head the division going into the New Year have gone on to lift the title in May.
However, the Gunners are a notable recent exception when they trailed in third despite topping the table at this stage of the season six years ago.
Roberto Martinez's Everton had taken an early lead through Seamus Coleman before Southampton threatened to steal a point thanks to a Gaston Ramirez strike midway through the second half at Goodison Park.
But Lukaku, on loan from Chelsea, netted his ninth club goal of the season with 16 minutes to play to give Everton their third win in four matches.
As a result, the Toffees moved above Liverpool into fourth place, although their Merseyside rivals were set to reclaim that spot with a draw or win at Chelsea in a later match.
The other late game was between Tottenham and Stoke.
Agence France-Presse, Reuters