Tottenham moved seven points clear of Arsenal after man of the moment Gareth Bale led them to victory in a pulsating north London derby at White Hart Lane.
SCORERS: Tottenham - Bale (37) Lennon (39); Arsenal - Mertesacker (51)
Referee: M Clattenburg
Two goals in just over two minutes before the break sealed victory for Andre Villas-Boas’ men, who underlined their position as top dogs in the north of the capital thanks to another lax display at the back from the stuttering Gunners.
Despite playing second fiddle to Spurs for most of the season, Arsenal started strongly and they looked as if they had the potential to record their first win at White Hart Lane in six years.
Bale and Aaron Lennon had other ideas, however. Bale slipped behind a static Arsenal back four and slotted past Wojciech Szczesny to put Tottenham 1-0 up before Lennon breezed past the flat back line moments later, latching on to Scott Parker’s pass before beating the Arsenal goalkeeper from close range.
Per Mertesacker pulled one back for the Gunners in the second half, but a mix of wasteful passing around the box, and excellent displays from Jan Vertonghen and Michael Dawson, stopped Arsene Wenger’s men from finding their way through again.
A further blemish for Arsenal was that their supporters chose to taunt their former striker Emmanuel Adebayor about the deadly gun attack he survived in 2010.
Villas-Boas, sacked one year ago today by Chelsea, will have slept much easier than the beleaguered Wenger last night, knowing that his team are in an extremely strong position in the hunt for Champions League qualification.
Spurs, who moved above Chelsea into third, are now more than two wins ahead of their bitter north London rivals with ten games left.
“It’s massive to go seven points clear. In a north London derby, to get three points is massive. We have a long way to go, but it is a good day,” Dawson said. “We have a great squad and we showed that today.
“It probably wasn’t our best performance. We didn’t keep the ball like we know we can but we showed great determination and we got the three points we deserved.
“We want to be back in the Champions League. I think we showed that in the celebrations after. The fans will go home happy and have the bragging rights at work tomorrow.”
Villas-Boas will remember, of course, that Tottenham surrendered a ten-point lead to Arsenal last year, but this Spurs team is made of stronger stuff and Wenger’s side appear to lack the same heart, as well as the goals of Robin van Persie which proved so important last term.
Arsenal controlled the opening stages of the game, which was played out amid a white-hot atmosphere.
“It was very very important for what it means, but obviously nothing is finished yet,” said Villas-Boa. “We have to believe that we still have to fight hard. Arsenal have to play Man City, we have to play Liverpool [next weekend]. We to try to profit from another important fixture and keep doing our job. It is important we gather as many points as we can to finish where we want to be.”
Arsenal finished strongly last season to pip Tottenham to third, with Chelsea’s Champions League triumph ensuring the White Hart Lane outfit missed out on this season’s competition. “Last year, by this time, Arsenal made the difference of seven points to Tottenham and we know how it finished,” Villas-Boas added. “Motivations are now different. We are extremely confident.”
Tottenham: Lloris, Walker, Dawson, Vertonghen, Assou-Ekotto, Dembele (Livermore 87), Parker, Lennon (Gallas 90), Bale, Sigurdsson, Adebayor (Defoe 66). Subs Not Used: Friedel, Naughton, Holtby,Carroll.
Arsenal: Szczesny, Jenkinson (Rosicky 60), Mertesacker, Vermaelen, Monreal, Ramsey, Arteta (Podolski 77),Walcott, Wilshere, Cazorla, Giroud. Subs Not Used: Mannone, Koscielny, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Coquelin.