LONDON, April 20, 2011 (AFP) - Arsenal failed to hang onto a lead for the second successive game as Spurs star Rafael van der Vaart dented their title hopes by rescuing a 3-3 draw in the north London derby on Wednesday.
Arsene Wenger's side needed a win to keep in touch with Premier League leaders Manchester United, but instead this frantic, enthralling game at White Hart Lane left their challenge hanging by a slender thread.
Theo Walcott opened the scoring for Arsenal before Van der Vaart replied within two minutes.
Samir Nasri and Robin van Persie had Arsenal cruising until three minutes before the break, but Tom Huddlestone struck to start the Spurs fightback.
Van der Vaart's 70th minute penalty left Arsenal, with five draws from their last six league matches, languishing six points behind United who had been held 0-0 at Newcastle on Monday.
Apart from local bragging rights, both Tottenham and Arsenal had massive incentives to win the game.
The Gunners had gone into the match with the words of Cesc Fabregas, who claimed they lacked a winning mentality, ringing in their ears.
However bad the timing of the Arsenal captain's criticisms of Wenger's methods, he did have a point as they are closing in on their sixth straight season without a trophy.
Add Fabregas's accusations to the way they dropped two points in the last minute of injury time against Liverpool on Sunday, and it would be safe to say Arsenal were hurting.
Spurs looked to set out to kick their local rivals when they were down as Luka Modric fired wide on two minutes, immediately after an unmarked Peter Crouch just failed to get onto Vedran Corluka's cross.
But just as Spurs were beginning to stamp their mark, Walcott broke for Arsenal and calmly slotted home the opening goal in the fifth minute.
The visitors' lead lasted all of two minutes before Van der Vaart got on the end of Corluka's cross to slot home his 11th league goal of the season and his first since the beginning of January.
The frantic pace did not let up and Arsenal were again in front after 12 minutes as Nasri shot from outside the area and his strike took a deflection off Michael Dawson as it flashed past Tottenham goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes.
Walcott should have added a third for Arsenal on 29 minutes after Van Persie had put him through and he burst past Dawson and William Gallas, only to fire inches wide of the far post.
But Van Persie made no mistake five minutes before the break, volleying home the rebound off Gomes' superb one-handed save to keep the Dutchman's initial header out.
However, Tottenham had the last word in the first half, just after Gareth Bale had gone off following a collision with visiting keeper Wojciech Szczeszny.
Huddlestone slammed a long-range effort into the net through Van der Vaart's legs as the Dutchman leaped to avoid the thunderous shot.
Van der Vaart was kept out by an excellent one-handed save from Szczeszny on 54 minutes following a sweeping Spurs move.
And Spurs were level on 70 minutes through a van der Vaart penalty after Szczeszny rushed off his line and brought down Aaron Lennon.
It could have been worse for Arsenal as Roman Pavlyuchenko, Peter Crouch and van der Vaart missed late chances to steal the win for Spurs.