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Tottenham Hotspur moved seven points clear of Arsenal after coming out on top in a pulsating north London derby at White Hart Lane.
Two goals in just over two minutes before the break sealed victory for Andre Villas-Boas's men, who underlined their position as top dogs in the north of the capital after exploiting defensive lapses from the 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.
Gareth 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 excellent displays from Jan Vertonghen and Michael Dawson stopped Arsene Wenger's men from finding their way through again.
Villas-Boas, sacked one year ago tomorrow by Chelsea, will sleep much easier than Wenger tonight knowing that his team are in a very strong position in the hunt for UEFA Champions League qualification.
Spurs, who moved above Chelsea in to third, are now more than two wins ahead of their bitter north London rivals with 10 games left.
Arsenal controlled the opening stages of the game, which was played out amid a white-hot atmosphere. Santi Cazorla cut out the Tottenham back four with a jaw-dropping 40-yard pass to play Olivier Giroud through, but Vertonghen did just enough to put the Frenchman off.
Hugo Lloris saved well from a Carl Jenkinson cross-cum shot and Dawson and Vertonghen were kept busy clearing bombardments from both flanks as Spurs endured a torrid opening half-hour.
Giroud threatened to break through, but Vertonghen cut him down to size with a brutal tackle which earned him a booking. Ramsey then went in to the book for pushing Lennon over as he raced down the right.
Spurs were on the back foot, but they managed to take the lead through man of the moment Bale. The Welshman latched on a clever pass from Sigurdsson and stabbed the ball past the on-rushing Szczesny.
Just 140 seconds later it was 2-0. Parker picked the ball up on the halfway line, Arsenal backed off, and he threaded a wonderful ball through to Lennon, who rounded Szczesny and tapped the ball in to the empty net.
Whatever Wenger said at half-time to his players, it worked. The away side came flying out of the blocks in the second half and they pulled one back six minutes in. Mertesacker leapt in front of Bale and glanced home Theo Walcott's corner from the near post, with the help of a deflection off the Welshman.
Arsenal continued to press. Walcott, now playing centrally, headed over, Jack Wilshere danced around the edge of the Spurs box and Nacho Monreal fired a powerful shot just wide of Lloris's goal.
Tottenham rallied briefly, Assou-Ekotto firing a wicked cross in to the box, but Bale spooned his shot high and wide before Adebayor was carried off on a stretcher after suffering an injury.
Arsenal continued to control the game, but with 20 minutes to go Spurs hit them on the break through Sigurdsson, who got in behind the Gunners back four, but decided to square the ball when he should have shot at goal.
Wenger threw on Lukas Podolski and Tomas Rosicky as the visitors laid siege to the Spurs goal. Ramsey and Walcott fired powerful drives just wide of Tottenham's goal, but even after six minutes of added time, the Gunners’ hunt for an equaliser failed to materialise.
Tottenham manager Andre Villas-Boas: "It was very, very important for what it means, but obviously nothing is finished yet. We have to believe that we still have to fight hard. 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."
"Last year, by this time, Arsenal made the difference of seven points to Tottenham and we know how it finished. Motivations are now different. We are extremely confident. They are on a low at the moment. We have to continue to do our job."
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger: "We were not efficient in those decisive zones, not at the back or up front. We were not cautious enough. On the two goals we played offside in a position where we shouldn't play offside.
"It is difficult to struggle with defeat because of the effort we put in and the energy level we put in over the 90 minutes was tremendous. We made it difficult for ourselves. We came back and dominated the game but the game was stop and go. It was difficult to get a flow in the final 20 minutes, we didn't find the second goal."
"It's very frustrating, but we have to put the energy in every game like we did today and keep going, you never know. It would be absolutely terrible not to fight like mad because there is a lot of positives in the game. What happened today we have seen repeated so many times in big games that of course it's difficult."
|17 Mar 2013||v Fulham (H)|
|27 Apr 2013||v Wigan (A)|
|10 Mar 2013||v Liverpool (A)|
|19 May 2013||v Sunderland (H)|
|12 May 2013||v Stoke (A)|
|04 May 2013||v Southampton (H)|