LONDON (Reuters) – Tottenham Hotspur beat Arsenal 2-1 in a typically frantic North London derby at White Hart Lane on Sunday to move into third place in the Premier League and open up a seven-point gap on their arch-rivals in the hunt for a Champions League spot.
Both Spurs goals came in a two-minute burst shortly before halftime with man-of-the-moment Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon scoring before Arsenal hit back with a header from Per Mertesacker six minutes into the second half.
Bale and Lennon scored after finding huge gaps in the centre of Arsenal’s defence and both teams had plenty of chances to score in an all-action second half.
But Spurs, who stretched their unbeaten league run to 12 matches, held on to move above Chelsea with 54 points from 28 games.
"That was very important," Spurs manager Andre Villas-Boas told Sky Sports.
"It meant a lot for our fans – we wanted to get this one over Arsenal and create a distance between us. Seven points is not big enough in the Premier League, because this time last year Arsenal came back.
"We have difficult fixtures coming up against Manchester City and Liverpool. We will try and push on and qualify for the Champions League.
"It’s not over until the last game of the season. It’s a good, important win against a top club who are fighting for the same objectives."
Arsenal stayed fifth on 47 points after failing to win at White Hart Lane for the fifth successive season.
"Suddenly we were 2-0 down after a tight opening," Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger said.
"We were on top of the game when we conceded two goals. My team produced a lot of energy and desire but we were not decisive enough in either penalty area.
"We played offside at the back when we shouldn’t have done it. I feel sorry for the team and the fans. It’s difficult to swallow.
"We have to fight. It will be difficult to come in the top four now as we dropped points we couldn’t afford to drop."
It was all Arsenal for first 25 minutes, with the visitors closing Spurs down quickly and looking far more impressive than they had done in many recent matches, especially the game against Bayern Munich in the Champions League last month.
Arsenal’s Jack Wilshere and Santi Cazorla were dominating the midfield with Bale and Moussa Dembele largely anonymous but despite all their superiority Arsenal failed to make the breakthrough.
Spurs gradually played their way back into the match but also failed to create a real scoring chance in the opening 30 minutes.
All that changed in a two-minute spell before halftime.
So much of the pre-match hype was centred on Tottenham’s Welsh midfielder Bale, who had been in stunning form with eight goals in his previous six matches in all competitions.
Right on cue, he fired Spurs ahead, narrowly staying onside to collect a through ball from Gylfi Sigurdsson and shoot into the far corner of Wojciech Szczesny’s net.
Arsenal’s defence was quickly breached again when Scott Parker picked out Lennon who beat the offside trap and waltzed round Szczesny to double the lead.
Arsenal won last season’s derby at the Emirates 5-2 after trailing 2-0 and they came back into the match when Mertesacker headed home at the near post from a Theo Walcott free kick.
Spurs had three superb chances to wrap the match up through Bale, Sigurdsson and substitute Jermain Defoe while Aaron Ramsey wasted a late opportunity to equalise for the Gunners.
(Editing by Ed Osmond)
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