Olivier Giroud ended a seven-game scoring drought to help Arsenal beat Newcastle United 1-0 and return to the top of the Premier League today.
Arsenal's visit to Newcastle promised goals after the North Londoners won 7-3 when the teams clashed on the same day last year, but this encounter soon descended into a more stolid affair with both defences well on top.
Arsenal kept possession neatly, but without injured playmaker Mesut Ozil, lacked incision and failed to create a chance of note in the first half.
Newcastle came close to taking the lead in first-half injury time when Arsenal keeper Wojciech Szczesny palmed a shot from Moussa Sissoko over the bar and defender Mike Williamson hit the crossbar with a header from the resulting corner.
It looked to be heading towards a draw when Arsenal struck the decisive blow. Walcott's free kick was perfectly angled into the box and Giroud got in between the Newcastle centre backs to feather a delicate header into the net.
It could have been 2-0 moments later but Walcott missed two chances to put the game to bed, with Newcastle keeper Tim Krul saving his first shot while his follow-up effort was cleared off the line by Mathieu Debuchy.
There was a frenetic finale but Arsenal's defence held out to ensure they go into the New Year on top of the table for the first time since 2007-08, to provide manager Arsene Wenger with some festive cheer.
''There was a big satisfaction because we surprised many people and we want to go on from here,'' he said.
''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.''
Will Burnley retain their EPL status?