Premier League: Tottenham reclaim third spot with narrow win over Arsenal
Last Updated: March 4, 2013 7:26am
Tottenham Hotspur boosted their hopes of Champions League qualification and dealt a blow to Arsenal's chances of another top-four finish as they ran out 2-1 winners in an absorbing North London derby at White Hart Lane.
Gareth Bale continued his superb form with the opening goal on 37 minutes and Aaron Lennon made it 2-0 before the interval as Arsenal's defensive deficiencies were ruthlessly exposed.
Best of the match
- Man of the match: Vertonghen. Alongside Dawson, either one of Spurs' centre-halves could have scooped the award, but for his sheer composure and positioning, the Belgian star triumphs.
- Goal of the game: Bale. His finish from Sigurdsson's through ball was as calm as you'd expect from a man in the form of his life.
- Save of the match: Neither keeper had a standout moment, but Lloris' domination of his six-yard box was a sight to behold.
- Moment of the match: Lennon's goal completed a three-minute salvo for Spurs that cruelly illustrated Arsenal's defensive woes.
- Talking point: Tottenham return to third place, and thanks to their 12-game unbeaten Premier League run they will surely be eyeing Manchester City in second rather than looking behind them now.
The Gunners came back strongly after the interval as Per Mertesacker's header got a deflection off Bale on its way to goal, but Tottenham held on to reclaim third place and stretch their lead over Arsene Wenger's men to seven points.
There was a fast tempo to the game from the outset and it was Arsenal who had the first effort on goal when Olivier Giroud's header was comfortably held by Hugo Lloris, while Jan Vertonghen had to be alert to slide in with a good tackle as the French striker threatened again moments later.
Emmanuel Adebayor, sent off against his former club in the reverse fixture at Emirates Stadium, picked up an early yellow card following a reckless tackle on Aaron Ramsey as both sides battled to gain control of a congested midfield.
Arsenal worked their way into a few good positions but were then unable to deliver a decisive final pass, and it was Spurs who suddenly carved out a commanding lead with a two-goal blitz late in the first half.
Bale broke the deadlock with a calm finish past Wojciech Szczesny after beating the offside trap to latch on to a Gylfi Sigurdsson through ball, and it was a similar story two minutes later as Scott Parker's pass set up Lennon to skip round the goalkeeper and double Tottenham's lead.
Arsenal reduced their arrears in the 51st minute when Mertesacker's glancing header from a Theo Walcott free-kick was diverted past Lloris' despairing dive by a touch from Bale.
Nacho Monreal flashed a swerving volley narrowly wide from outside the area and Lloris did well to rush off his line and intercept a dangerous low cross from Carl Jenkinson as Spurs survived a few nervy moments.
Arsenal continued to press forward in pursuit of an equaliser but left gaps at the back for Tottenham to exploit on the counter-attack, although the hosts were not able to capitalise as Bale blazed a glorious chance over the bar and Sigurdsson mistakenly tried to square the ball when he just had the keeper to beat.
Jermain Defoe also drilled an effort wide after coming on for Adebayor and Bale smashed a powerful drive straight at Szczesny, while at the other end Ramsey fizzed a low shot just beyond Lloris' right-hand post from the edge of the area.
Walcott curled a free-kick wide in a frantic finale, and there were six minutes of stoppage time following an injury to Mousa Dembele, but Arsenal could not find a way through as Tottenham clung on to move a step closer to a Champions League spot.
Afterwards, Spurs boss Andre Villas-Boas hailed an important win but insisted his players would not be taking anything for granted in the race for the Champions League.
Both teams have tricky games still to play this season and Villas-Boas knows that Tottenham's win over Arsenal will mean little if they do not push on and remain consistent.
"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) and we have to try to profit from another important fixture and keep doing our job."
Arsene Wenger, on the other hand, admitted it was frustrating to lose but rejected suggestions that Tottenham Hotspur were now the top team in North London."It is difficult to swallow a defeat like that because of the effort we put in," he said.