Gareth Bale maintained his exhilarating run of scoring form to set Tottenham on their way to a 2-1 win over Arsenal yesterday, opening up a seven-point gap between the north London rivals in the race for Champions League qualification.
Bale - with his 10th goal in his past eight games - and fellow winger Aaron Lennon scored in a three-minute span at the end of the first half, a crucial spell that proved enough to keep Spurs in third place with 10 games left.
Per Mertesacker's 51st-minute header that deflected in off Bale gave Arsenal hope of a third straight comeback from 2-0 down in a typically absorbing and frantic derby. But the visitors couldn't avoid a costly loss that dents their chances of playing in the Champions League for a 16th straight season under Arsene Wenger.
"It's massive to go seven points clear, in a north London derby," Spurs defender Michael Dawson said. "We have a long way to go, but it is a good day."
With Arsenal likely to go without silverware for an eighth successive season, Wenger has been pinning his hopes on a top-four finish to salvage something from a miserable campaign. But even that is in serious doubt now, with Chelsea five points ahead of the Gunners in fourth place. There is no more room for error.
Wenger's side came back from a 10-point deficit to Spurs last season to qualify for Europe's top competition, but Bale wasn't in such scintillating form then.
The Wales winger is virtually carrying Tottenham back into the Champions League on his own, with his latest strike buttressing his strong chances of winning English football's Player of the Year award. It also ensured he equalled the club record - held jointly by Robbie Keane, Rafael van der Vaart and Teddy Sheringham - of scoring in five straight Premier League games.
He had arguably been having his quietest match of the season up until his goal, with Arsenal starting the stronger and its oft-criticised defence looking compact.
It then simply disintegrated.
First, an unchallenged Gylfi Sigurdsson slipped a ball through for Bale to beat the offside trap in a central position before finishing with the outside of his left foot past goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny. His 20th goal of the season in all competitions was met with chants of "He scores when he wants" by the delirious home fans.
Arsenal's back line, which has been suspect all season, hadn't learned its lesson because Scott Parker threaded a pass behind the docile Thomas Vermaelen and Lennon rounded Szczesny to slot into an empty net only 140 seconds later.
Bale, who had a banana thrown at him by Arsenal fans in the first half as he prepared to take a corner, missed a glorious chance to make it 3-1 in the 59th when he shot over from close range.
Arsenal were given more lifelines when Sigurdsson chose to pass rather than shoot when one-on-one with Szczesny, and then Jermain Defoe, on for Adebayor, dribbled a shot wide.
The visitors threw everything in the final 10 minutes, but Spurs held on for arguably their biggest win of the season.
BARCLAYS PREMIER LEAGUE REVIEWS
WEST BROMWICH ALBION 0
GOAL: CHELSEA: BA 28.
Rafael Benitez's week to forget ended on a high as his Chelsea side produced a commanding display to defeat West Brom. After criticising his own fans for their protests against him, the manager watched the Blues create more than 20 chances on goal, although the home side converted just one. That came in the first half when Demba Ba slotted in after David Luiz had headed Oscar's cross into his path.
EVERTON 3 READING 1
GOALS:-EVERTON: FELLAINI 42; PIENAAR 59; MIRALLAS 66. READING: ROBSON-KANU 84.
Everton breathed new life into their push for a European place with a comfortable win which increased Reading's relegation worries. Marouane Fellaini opened the scoring after connecting with Seamus Coleman's inviting cross before Steven Pienaar doubled the lead with a 20-yard finish. Pienaar then turned provider as the South African set up Kevin Mirallas. Reading, who remain in the relegation zone, scored a late consolation through substitute Hal Robson-Kanu's header.
MANCHESTER UNITED 4
NORWICH CITY 0
GOALS: KAGAWA 45, 76, 87; ROONEY 90.
Shinji Kagawa scored a hat-trick as Manchester United beat Norwich at Old Trafford and extended their lead at the Barclays Premier League summit to 15 points. United deservedly opened the scoring when Kagawa volleyed past Mark Bunn in first-half stoppage time. Norwich pressed for an equaliser but Kagawa ended their hopes with a neat finish before dinking a third. Wayne Rooney sealed the victory with a stunning effort as United warmed up for the visit of Real Madrid in style.
QUEENS PARK RANGERS 2
GOALS: SOUTHAMPTON: RAMIREZ 45. QPR: REMY 14; BOTHROYD 77.
Jay Bothroyd scored a late winner to boost Queens Park Rangers' hopes of staying up and dealt a blow to Southampton's own survival prospects. QPR took the lead against the run of play when Loic Remy finished clinically from Junior Hoilett's lofted pass. Southampton equalised when Gaston Ramirez followed up Julio Cesar's save and chipped the Brazilian goalkeeper. But QPR snatched only their third win of the season when Bothroyd turned in a low cross from Park Ji-sung.
STOKE CITY 0
WEST HAM UNITED 1
GOAL: WEST HAM: COLLISON 45.
A Jack Collison goal gave West Ham a first away win in the top flight since November 11, as they beat Stoke. Substitute Collison latched on to Ricardo Vaz Te's pass before angling a shot past home keeper Asmir Begovic. Begovic kept out a Matt Jarvis strike, while Stoke responded with a Peter Crouch effort from long range.
SUNDERLAND 2 FULHAM 2
GOALS: SUNDERLAND: GARDNER PEN 37; SESSEGNON 70. FULHAM: BERBATOV PEN 16; RIETHER 35.
Sunderland rallied from two goals down to draw with Fulham and end a three-match losing run. Dimitar Berbatov scored a penalty to make it 1-0 after Craig Gardner felled Ashkan Dejagah and Sascha Riether added a second from a counter-attack. Gardner pulled one back from the spot after Philippe Senderos tugged Danny Graham's shirt. Stephane Sessegnon equalised moments after Black Cats keeper Simon Mignolet denied Berbatov.
SWANSEA CITY 1
NEWCASTLE UNITED 0
GOAL: SWANSEA: MOORE 85.
Substitute Luke Moore's first Premier League goal of the season gave Swansea a hard-earned win against Newcastle at the Liberty Stadium. Moore's scuffed shot from six yards takes the Swans to 40 points and leaves them seventh, at least for a few hours. Newcastle hit the crossbar and forced a series of saves from goalkeeper Michel Vorm in the second half.
WIGAN ATHLETIC 0
DOWNING 2; SUAREZ 18, 34, 49.
Luis Suarez scored a hat-trick as Liverpool thrashed Wigan and boosted their hopes of European qualification. Brazil's Philippe Coutinho was integral to the first two goals, crossing for Stewart Downing to head in from close range before playing in Suarez, who slotted past keeper Ali Al Habsi. The Uruguay forward made it 3-0 before the break with a deflected free-kick before he poked in his third.
TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR 2
GOALS: TOTTENHAM: BALE 37; LENNON 39. ARSENAL: MERTESACKER 51.
Tottenham won a pulsating north London derby to go third in the Barclays Premier League and seven points ahead of Arsenal, who are now five points off fourth place. Gareth Bale burst through and steered in Spurs' opener before, in a similar move, Aaron Lennon raced clear to round keeper Wojciech Szczesny and slot in. Per Mertesacker's header went off Bale to pull one back for the Gunners. Bale skied a far post chance before Arsenal's Aaron Ramsey almost equalised but drove a shot just wide.