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THE hallmark of champions, so they say, is the ability to win matches while not playing at your peak.

So what of a team who lead 3-0 at half-time, away from home, against their most bitter rivals, while being statistically second-best?

Kai Havertz continued his fine goalscoring for
What of a team who then gift their opponents two goals, threaten to chuck it all away, yet hold on for three crucial points.

For 45 minutes, Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal were ruthlessly efficient. In the second half, they threatened to chuck it all away, to live up to their questionable reputations as choking bottle jobs.

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Yet however haphazard this performance, Arsenal look destined to take their title race with Manchester City down to the wire.

After 45 minutes at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, Arsenal had registered 28 per cent possession, had two efforts on target.

Arsenal are lethal from attacking set-pieces, Tottenham are terrible at defending them.

And from two corners, Arteta’s men had scored twice – a Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg own goal and a Kai Havertz header, either side of a classy Bukayo Saka finish had effectively ended this North London derby as a contest inside 38 minutes.

Yet the Gunners gifted Spurs two goals – a David Raya blunder letting in Cristian Romero before Declan Rice conceded a penalty, converted by Son Heung-Min.

But Arsenal clung on for dear life and with three matches to go – at home to Bournemouth and Everton, either side of a trip to Manchester United – their title flame remains alive. 

Tottenham dominated the ball but could not take advantage.

For Ange Postecoglou, this was a sickening gut-punch. Tottenham had hit the post, had an equaliser ruled out by a marginal VAR offside call, and had played the vast majority of the first-half football.

But a second consecutive defeat leaves them needing a minor miracle to overhaul fourth-placed Aston Villa and clinch Champions League qualification.

Tottenham were bang up for this, the trumpeter up by the giant golden cock on top of the South Stand blasting out ‘When the Spurs Go Marching On’, the atmosphere febrile, the pack-of-dogs high press winning plenty of possession.

And yet they were 2-0 down inside 27 minutes, courtesy of an own goal, a couple of VAR controversies and a sweet finish from Saka.

Havertz had already had the ball in the Arsenal – an effort ruled out for offside against Martin Odegaard – before they took the lead on 13 minutes.

Saka delivered a corner to the near post where Hojbjerg horribly miscued an attempted clearance, glancing a header into his own net.

Soon Romero was heading against the post from a James Maddison free-kick, with Raya.

Then Spurs thought they were level when a corner was cleared and a Pedro Porro shot looped up for an unmarked Micky van de Ven to drill home.

Yet VAR Jarred Gillett detected the Dutchman’s shoulder an inch or two offside and the volcanic celebrations were extinguished.

In the build-up to Arsenal’s second, Spurs had not one but two penalty shouts turned down, a Takehiro Tomiyasu nudge on Dejan Kulusevski followed by Maddison appearing to dive under pressure from Declan Rice.

Arsenal cleared, Havertz plated a visionary diagonal to Saka in space on the right. The England man thought about shooting first time but cut inside Ben Davies and slotted inside the far corner.

Saka had been looking tired of late, but not on this occasion. The assist and the finish were sweet as candy floss.

VAR checked the penalty appeals at the other end. Could 0-2 become 1-1? Nope, Gillett was not impressed.

And then the third goal. A Rice corner met by Havertz, who outjumped Van de Ven while Ben White did a job on Tottenham’s keeper Guglielmo Vicario, who’s struggled from corners have been ruthlessly targeted.

Still, Spurs kept creating chances – Son Heung-min blazing over after being sent clean through by Romero.

It was almost 4-0 soon after the restart when Havertz chipped to the far post and Saka’s low volley was brilliantly saved by Vicario, sticking out a boot.

Suddenly, though, on 64 minutes, Spurs were tossed a lifeline by Raya.

The Arsenal keeper received a back-pass from William Saliba but tried to be too clever an attempted chip of Romero being chested down by the Argentinian and fired back past him into the net.

And with six minutes remaining, hope started to surge around the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.

As Rice attempted to clear he caught Ben Davies with his follow-through and Gillett sent Michael Oliver to the replay screen to award the penalty.

Son hammered his spot-kick past Raya and it was ‘game on’.

Spurs pinned Arsenal back for six minutes of injury time but could not find a leveller.

Arsenal hobbled over the line, but they are still standing. 

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