By Wayne Veysey, Goal.com
Tottenham extended the gap in the race for a Champions League berth over Arsenal to seven points after completing a clinical 2-1 win in a highly-charged North London derby.
Nearly identical first-half goals just moments apart from Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon were enough to take Spurs back above Chelsea to third in the Premier League.
Per Mertesacker pulled one back for the visitors in the 51stminute, but, despite a glut of late chances from both sides, a fiercely contested and hugely entertaining encounter finished in favor of Andre Villas-Boas’ in-form team, which has not lost a league match since a 2-1 defeat to Everton on Dec. 9.
Tottenham’s fourth consecutive Premier League win has lifted Spurs to within two points of second-place Manchester City, who travels to Aston Villa on Monday night. Meanwhile, Arsenal’s seventh league defeat of the season leaves the Gunners 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 37thminute with his 10thgoal in eight games, as he once again demonstrated what a threat he is in the central role that Villas-Boas has created for him. Bale’s run between the centrer backs was spotted by Gylfi Sigurdsson, who earned the start in place of Lewis Holtby and the injured Clint Dempsey (calf), 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 to open the scoring.
Chants of ‘Gareth Bale, he scores when he wants’ were followed by ‘When the Spurs go marching in’ after Lennon emerged victorious in another 1-on-1 with Szczesny 140 seconds later to send the White Hart Lane fans into a frenzy.
The Arsenal defense was lamentable in trying to prevent Lennon from collecting Scott Parker’s pass, but the winger made like Bale and 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 play. Theo Walcott’s corner from the left was met at the near post by Mertesacker, who flicked 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 Aaron 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 defense. Sigurdsson opted to try and square the ball for Bale when put through 1-on-1 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, and they take a wave of momentum with them into Thursday's UEFA Europa League round of 16 first leg against Inter Milan.