By Wayne Veysey at White Hart Lane
Tottenham extended their Premier League advantage over Arsenal to seven points after completing a clinical 2-1 win in a highly-charged north London derby.
First-half goals from Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon were enough to take Spurs back above Chelsea to third in the top flight.
Per Mertesacker pulled one back for the visitors in the 51st minute but, despite a glut of late chances from both sides, a fiercely contested and hugely entertaining encounter finished in favour of Andre Villas-Boas’ in-form team.
Tottenham’s fourth consecutive Premier League win has lifted them to within two points of second-placed Manchester City, who travel to Aston Villa on Monday night.
Arsenal’s seventh league defeat of the season leaves them five points adrift of the Champions League places with less than a quarter of the season remaining.
Bale set Spurs on their way in the 37th minute with his 10th goal in eight games as he once again demonstrated what a threat he is in the central role that Villas-Boas has created for him.
But this was no one-man show. The home team had heroes all over the pitch as they mixed disciplined, resolute defence with some thrilling counterattacks.
A strong second-half fightback proved in vain for Arsenal, who made one change from the team that beat Aston Villa last weekend, with Aaron Ramsey replacing the injured Abou Diaby.
Gylfi Sigurdsson was rewarded for his equaliser in the 3-2 win over West Ham by getting the nod over Lewis Holtby, while Benoit Assou-Ekotto came in for the injured Steven Caulker. Jermain Defoe was named as a substitute following a month on the sidelines.
The opening quarter of the match was played at a frantic pace, with both teams urgently compressing space to keep chances to a premium.
Arsenal were marginally the more composed of the two sides, supplying spearhead Olivier Giroud with some good ammunition, but the Frenchman lacked the quick reflexes to execute effectively.
Wenger’s team undid their good work of the opening 35 minutes with the kind of statue-esque defending that has become all too familiar in recent years.
In the 37th minute, Bale’s run between the centre-backs was spotted by Sigurdsson and his sumptuous pass was seized upon by the Welshman with almost effortless cool. Barely breaking stride, Bale slotted it to the left of Wojciech Szczesny.
Chants of ‘Gareth Bale, he scores when he wants’ were followed by ‘When the Spurs go marching in’ after Lennon emerged victorious in another one-on-one with Szczesny 140 seconds later to send the home fans wild.
The Arsenal defence were lamentable in trying to prevent Lennon collecting Scott Parker’s pass, but the winger deserves great credit for the manner in which he coolly rounded the keeper to double his team’s advantage.
Five minutes into the second period, the visitors got a foothold in the match through a well-worked set-piece routine. Theo Walcott’s corner from the left was met at the near post by Mertesacker, who arched his neck muscles expertly to flick the ball with the back of his head past Hugo Lloris.
Wenger went full throttle in search of at least one more goal. Tomas Rosicky replaced Carl Jenkinson as Ramsey slotted in at right-back for the last half-hour.
As Arsenal poured forward in search of a second, Spurs exploited gaps in their defence. Sigurdsson bizarrely opted to square the ball when put through one-on-one with Szczesny, while Defoe and Bale also wasted good chances to put the game out of the visitors’ reach.
Despite their second-half wastefulness, Spurs held firm to clinch a victory that their focus and commitment deserved.