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'Mind the gap' : Tottenham on fast track to success

By James Masters, CNN
March 3, 2013 -- Updated 2154 GMT (0554 HKT)
Gareth Bale poses in front of the television cameras after firing Tottenham into a 1-0 lead against arch rival Arsenal at White Hart Lane. The Welshman beat the offside trap before coolly slotting the ball into the net, leaving him free to produce his trademark heart shape celebration. Gareth Bale poses in front of the television cameras after firing Tottenham into a 1-0 lead against arch rival Arsenal at White Hart Lane. The Welshman beat the offside trap before coolly slotting the ball into the net, leaving him free to produce his trademark heart shape celebration.
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Love in the air
Lennon on song
Per power
Red mist
Gilt-edged chance
Wenger woe
Winning feeling
Palacio to the rescue
Bayern cruise
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Tottenham wins derby match against Arsenal 2-1 Sunday
  • Gareth Bale has now scored 20 goals for Spurs so far this season
  • Inter Milan fights back to win 3-2 at Catania in Serie A
  • Bayern Munich wins again to stay 17 points clear at summit

(CNN) -- On the London Underground there is a saying which has become synonymous with any tourist visit to the British capital.

"Mind the Gap".

It's up there with the Queen, a wonderfully indulgent cream tea, Beefeaters outside the Tower of London and all those quintessentially English pastimes which tend to draw those flocking from overseas.

It is a saying which has been emblazoned across numerous t-shirts and posters, while children on the underground seem to delight in repeating the famous phrase.

But now, in London at least, those three words have been hijacked by the supporters of Tottenham and Arsenal, who will now no doubt continue to mock each other until the end of the season.

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Following Tottenham's 2-1 win over its city rival Sunday, the "gap" is seven points with Andre Villas-Boas' side now occupying third place and more importantly, a qualification spot for next year's Champions League.

But Arsenal has been here before. Last season, Tottenham blew a 10-point advantage to allow its fiercest foe to take third spot and a place in Europe's elite competition.

Before Arsenal's astonishing comeback, which followed the 5-2 thrashing of Tottenham just over a year ago, it was those dressed in the blue and white which sang merrily about minding the gap.

It was a song they would come to regret as Arsenal grew in strength while Spurs faltered, eventually leading to Harry Redknapp's exit and the failure to reach the promised land of the Champions League.

But a year in football is a long time -- just ask Villas-Boas.

A year ago Monday, the man known as "AVB" was sent packing from Chelsea with his reputation in ruin.

Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich had paid $20 million to take the young Portuguese coach from Porto to Stamford Bridge less than 10 months earlier.

But his spell in charge proved a disaster, leaving the club on the brink of exit from the Champions League, out of the Premier League title race and facing humiliation.

Vilified for his team selections, his unorthodox style of crouching on the touchline and man-management skills, he was seen as "Mourinho-lite" and simply not in the same class as the "Special One."

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But a year on since leaving west London, Villas-Boas is steadily building a team bursting with potential, led by the ever improving Gareth Bale.

It was Bale, of course, who proved the man for the occasion, firing Tottenham ahead eight minutes before the break with a coolly taken finish -- his 20th of the season.

With nine goals in his past seven club games, Bale continues to astound, rightly or wrongly allowing comparisons with Cristiano Ronaldo and Leo Messi to gather pace.

While his imperious run of form has been a joy for Tottenham supporters, it is also the new found steel which has been lacking in the past, which has made this side a far more accomplished proposition.

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Once Aaron Lennon had added a second less than two minutes after Bale's opener, Arsenal was facing an uphill struggle.

Suddenly that gap was increasing and Arsenal's apathetic attitude to defending gave little to suggest that anything but a widening chasm between the two clubs.

Now unbeaten in 12 league games, Tottenham deserves to be taken seriously.

"Forever in our shadow" was what Arsenal fans used to chant at their rivals -- and with justification following its domination of north London since Wenger's arrival.

In fact, not since 1995 has Tottenham finished above Arsenal in England's top division, a statistic which will surely be consigned to history at the end of the current campaign.

Yes, Arsenal did find a route back into the game after the interval when Bale inadvertently directed Per Mertesacker's header into his own net.

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But Tottenham, marshaled by Michael Dawson and Jan Vertonghen, held out comfortably to claim a crucial victory in their quest for the Champions League and the domination of north London.

"It was very, very important for what it means, but obviously nothing is finished yet," Villas-Boas told Sky Sports.

"We have to believe that we still have to fight hard. Arsenal have to play Man City, we have to play Liverpool (next weekend).

"We try to profit from another important fixture and keep doing our job. It is important we gather as many points as we can to finish where we want to be.

"Last year, by this time, Arsenal made the difference of seven points to Tottenham and we know how it finished," Villas-Boas added.

"Motivations are now different. We are extremely confident. They are on a low at the moment. We have to continue to do our job."

Pressure grows on Wenger

For Arsenal and its beleaguered manager Arsene Wenger, the gap shows no sign of narrowing any time soon.

For 16 years it has been the ruler of its own backyard, but the neighbor is beginning to stir.

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Without a trophy in eight years, on the brink of an exit from the Champions League, the Frenchman is facing the most difficult spell since he arrived at the club in October 1996.

But Wenger refutes any suggestion that Tottenham has overtaken his side in terms of quality.

"That's not the impression I got from the game today," he told Sky Sports News. "We were not efficient in those decisive zones, not at the back or up front.

"We were not cautious enough. On the two goals we played offside in a position where we shouldn't play offside.

"It is difficult to struggle with defeat because of the effort we put in and the energy level we put in over the 90 minutes was tremendous.

"We made it difficult for ourselves. We came back and dominated the game but the game was stop and go.

"It was difficult to get a flow in the final 20 minutes, we didn't find the second goal."

United march on

But as fans got back onto the London Underground this evening following the contest, the question marks over Wenger's future remain.

Monday will mark his 6000th day in charge and while supporters may be losing faith, Wenger is adamant Arsenal can still qualify for next season's Champions League

He added: "It's very frustrating, but we have to put the energy in every game like we did today and keep going, you never know.

"It would be absolutely terrible not to fight like mad because there are a lot of positives in the game.

"What happened today we have seen repeated so many times in big games that of course it's difficult."

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In Italy, Rodrigo Palacio spared Inter Milan any embarrassment with a late cameo performance to steal a 3-2 win at Catania.

Trailing 2-0 at the break thanks to strikes from Gonzalo Bergessio and Giovanni Marchese, Inter fought back in the second half to turn the game on its head.

Ricky Alvarez halved the deficit before Palacio fired home an equalizer with 20 minutes remaining.

And with the contest entering the second minute of stoppage time, Palacio found space to drill home a dramatic winner.

"We had a terrible 20 minute period and were punished for our mistake on the first goal," coach Andrea Stramaccioni told Sky Italia.

"Luckily this team has thick skin and managed to fight their way back into the game.

"It's an important victory for us against a team which is in great form. Thankfully the real Inter emerged after the interval."

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Elsewhere, Fiorentina gained a 2-1 win over Chievo, Bolgona defeated Cagliari 3-0 and Emanuel Icardi's 58th minute effort secured all three points for Sampdoria against Parma.

Atalanta recorded a 2-0 win at Siena courtesy of Giacomo Bonaventura's double, while Torino and Palermo's game ended goalless.

In the late game, Roma defeated Genoa 3-1 with Francesco Totti on target.

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In Germany, Bayern Munich maintained its 17 point lead at the top of the Bundesliga following a 1-0 win over Hoffenheim.

Mario Gomez's strike gave Bayern its 10th straight win, despite being given a difficult afternoon by the relegation threatened side.

"The game was very difficult because of the opponent's league predicament," coach Jupp Heynckes told reporters.

"We had to work hard for the win, it wasn't brilliant or glamorous, but in return for 90 minutes work, we got three points.

"We were a bit superficial; we weren't direct enough and not lively enough. It took a while to warm up the engine."

Meanwhile, Bayern has been drawn at home to face Wolfsburg in the German Cup semifinal, while Freiburg will travel to Stuttgart in the other fixture.

In France, Lyon was held to a 1-1 draw at Brest, while Marseille reclaimed third place in Ligue 1 after coming from behind to defeat Troyes 2-1.

Lille saw off Bordeaux 2-1 in the day's late game thanks to goals from Ronny Rodelin and Salomon Kalou.

In Spain, Atletico Madrid was held to a goalless draw at Malaga as it missed out on the chance to close the gap on leader Barcelona.

Granada suffered a 2-1 home defeat by Mallorca, Espanyol drew 0-0 with Valladolid and Real Sociedad shared a six-goal thriller with Real Betis as it ended 3-3.

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