Tottenham moved seven points clear of Arsenal after they came 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’ men, who underlined their position as top dogs in the north of the capital thanks to a lax display at the back 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.
Joy: Spurs players celebrate their team’s 2-1 victory in the north London derby against Arsenal
Villas-Boas, sacked one year ago tomorrow by Chelsea, will sleep much easier than the beleaguered Wenger tonight knowing that his team are in a very strong position in the hunt for 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.
Villas-Boas will remember, of course, that Tottenham surrendered a 10-point lead to Arsenal last year, but this Spurs team is made of stronger stuff and Wenger’s side appear to lack the same heart, particularly in defence.
Opener: Gareth Bale beat Arsenal’s offside trap to score the first goal at White Hart Lane
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.
Contrast: Thomas Vermaelen looks on as Bale wheels away to celebrate the opening goal
No stopping him: Bale continued his impressive goal-scoring run to the delight of Spurs fans
Eighteen minutes passed before Mark Clattenburg had to reach for his book and almost inevitably, it was Adebayor who received the caution – for a late sliding tackle on Aaron Ramsey.
Bale mis-controlled when he latched on to Gylfi Sigurdsson’s pass, but otherwise Spurs had a quiet opening half hour.
Indeed it took 26 minutes before the hosts had their first corner. Bale took it after having a banana thrown at him by the Arsenal supporters.
Pounce: Aaron Lennon took advantage of some poor Arsenal defending to double Spurs’ lead
Open goal: Lennon took the ball round Wojciech Szczesny before rolling it into an empty net
Delight: Scott Parker celebrates the second goal with Aaron Lennon
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.
Back in it: Per Mertesacker celebrates after heading home for Arsenal to reduce their deficit
Hope: Mertesacker’s header took a deflection off Bale on the way into the far corner
Just 140 seconds later it was 2-0. Parker picked the ball up on the half-way 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.
The Spurs bench went wild and the home fans sarcastically sang: ‘Arsene Wenger, we want you to stay.’
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.
Heated: Michael Dawson and Vermaelen share their differing views
Mertesacker, so often criticised for his failings at the back, leapt in front of Bale and glanced home Theo Walcott’s corner from the near post.
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’ goal.
Tottenham rallied briefly, Assou-Ekotto firing a wicked cross in to the box, but Bale spooned his shot high and wide.
Injured: Emmanuel Adebayor was stretchered off for Tottenham in the second half
Adebayor was carried off on a stretcher after suffering an injury and he was replaced by Jermain Defoe.
A portion of the Arsenal support responded by taunting Adebayor about the 2010 gun attack on the Togo team bus at the African Nations Cup. ‘Shot in Angola, it should have been you.’
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 Arsenal 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, Arsenal’s hunt for an equaliser failed to materialise.
Guests: England Manager Roy Hodgson and comedian Michael McIntyre were in attendance at White Hart Lane