Tottenham won a pulsating north London derby to go third in the league and seven points ahead of Arsenal.
Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon slotted in two carbon copy goals in three first-half minutes after defence-splitting passes to put Spurs in control.
It was Bale's ninth goal in seven games but Per Mertesacker's header went in off the Welshman to give Arsenal hope.
Victory was for the fans - Villas-Boas
Bale skied a far-post chance before Arsenal's Aaron Ramsey almost equalised but drove a shot just wide.
Entertainment and goals are almost guaranteed between these two sides and there was no shortage of either in an enthralling contest at White Hart Lane.
Tottenham's failure to take a number of glorious chances to wrap up the game as Arsenal desperately chased an equaliser only added to the drama.
But the home side held on after enduring six minutes of added time to go 12 league games unbeaten and, in the process, leapfrog Chelsea as well as move two points behind second-placed Manchester City.
The wizardry of Spurs winger Bale has swept all before him this year and he was again on the scoresheet as he took his tally to 20 goals for the season.
Jonathan PearceBBC Match of the Day commentator
"Arsenal played well in the second half but it is a huge win for Tottenham and it was the man of the moment in Gareth Bale who helped them to victory."
The Gunners paid the price for a serious lapse of concentration towards the end of the first half, with their determined efforts after the break not enough to retrieve the situation.
Arsenal's next game will see them try to overturn a 3-1 first leg deficit in a last-16 Champions League tie at Bayern Munich and, if they do go out, the loss at Spurs leaves them five points from a top four spot and struggling to qualify for Europe's top competition.
There had been a huge sense of anticipation around the game and that transformed itself into an intensity and urgency on the pitch in the fevered atmosphere of a game between these rivals.
In the frenetic opening skirmishes, the Gunners almost picked their way through when Santi Cazorla's incisive pass released Olivier Giroud, whose shot was blocked by the sliding recovery tackle of Jan Vertonghen.
Arsenal have to fight - Wenger
Arsenal were tigerish and tenacious but the promise of their attacks was continually snuffed out by the excellent Tottenham centre-backs Vertonghen and Michael Dawson.
They produced the resilience and awareness the visitors could have done with from their defence, who were twice caught out to give Spurs the upper hand.
Gylfi Sigurdsson and Scott Parker each played incisive passes from the left through the heart of Arsenal's defence for Bale and Lennon to score.
Bale sent a 38th-minute left-foot shot into the bottom corner before Lennon rounded Wojciech Szczesny and slotted in his fourth goal of the campaign.
Spurs had led 1-0 and 2-0 against their rivals in their past two meetings but ended up losing both 5-2 and Arsenal threatened another comeback when Mertesacker's glanced header from Theo Walcott's free-kick skimmed in off Bale's head.
Spurs keeper Hugo Lloris crucially gathered a low Carl Jenkinson cross as Giroud and Aaron Ramsey threatened to pounce before Spurs took back a grip on the fluctuating game.
Gareth Bale has scored more goals against Arsenal than any other Premier League team in his top-flight career (five).
This fixture has seen more goals than any other in Premier League history (124).
Bale blazed over a Benoit Assou-Ekotto cross from the left before Sigurdsson was clean through only to square the ball for Mertesacker to clear instead of shooting.
The visitors were exposed as they piled forward and Defoe sent a shot agonisingly wide as the home side again failed to put Arsenal away.
Spurs were almost punished when Ramsey angled an effort wide, while Walcott curled a 22-yard free-kick the wrong side of the post towards the end.
Tottenham will feel they are strongly placed for a top four spot but there will also be a note of caution after they let a 10 point lead over Arsenal slip last season.
Substitution William Gallas joins the action as a substitute, replacing Aaron Lennon.
90:00 +6:07 Booking
Booking Kyle Walker goes into the referee's book for unsporting behaviour.
Jack Wilshere fouled by Kyle Walker, the ref awards a free kick.
Jermain Defoe is adjudged to have handled the ball. Wojciech Szczesny takes the direct free kick.
Thomas Vermaelen concedes a free kick for a foul on Gylfi Sigurdsson. Free kick taken by Benoit Assou-Ekotto.
Inswinging corner taken right-footed by Theo Walcott, save by Hugo Lloris.
Lukas Podolski takes a shot. Michael Dawson gets a block in.
Tomas Rosicky fouled by Scott Parker, the ref awards a free kick. Jack Wilshere takes the direct free kick.
Unfair challenge on Jake Livermore by Olivier Giroud results in a free kick. Benoit Assou-Ekotto takes the direct free kick.
Unfair challenge on Scott Parker by Per Mertesacker results in a free kick. Hugo Lloris takes the free kick.
Aaron Lennon concedes a free kick for a foul on Wojciech Szczesny. Direct free kick taken by Wojciech Szczesny.
Gylfi Sigurdsson challenges Tomas Rosicky unfairly and gives away a free kick. Thomas Vermaelen takes the direct free kick.
Jake Livermore challenges Lukas Podolski unfairly and gives away a free kick. Shot on goal comes in from Theo Walcott from the free kick.
Substitution (Tottenham) makes a substitution, with Jake Livermore coming on for Mousa Dembele.
Gylfi Sigurdsson has an effort at goal from the edge of the area that misses to the right of the target.
Shot by Olivier Giroud from just outside the area goes over the net.
Olivier Giroud concedes a free kick for a foul on Gareth Bale. Shot comes in from Gareth Bale from the free kick, save made by Wojciech Szczesny.
Corner taken by Theo Walcott, Olivier Giroud concedes a free kick for a foul on Hugo Lloris. Hugo Lloris takes the free kick.
Theo Walcott takes a shot. Benoit Assou-Ekotto gets a block in.
Free kick awarded for an unfair challenge on Santi Cazorla by Jermain Defoe. Tomas Rosicky restarts play with the free kick.
Aaron Ramsey challenges Gylfi Sigurdsson unfairly and gives away a free kick. Direct free kick taken by Benoit Assou-Ekotto.
Substitution Mikel Arteta goes off and Lukas Podolski comes on.
Theo Walcott is caught offside. Free kick taken by Hugo Lloris.
Aaron Ramsey crosses the ball.
Olivier Giroud delivers the ball, clearance by Benoit Assou-Ekotto.
Gareth Bale takes a shot. Save made by Wojciech Szczesny.
Gylfi Sigurdsson takes the outswinging corner, Thomas Vermaelen manages to make a clearance.
Aaron Lennon takes a shot. Thomas Vermaelen gets a block in.
Effort from the edge of the box by Jermain Defoe goes wide of the left-hand post.
Shot from long range by Benoit Assou-Ekotto goes over the bar.
Outswinging corner taken from the left by-line by Gareth Bale, clearance made by Thomas Vermaelen.
Gylfi Sigurdsson challenges Theo Walcott unfairly and gives away a free kick. The free kick is delivered right-footed by Santi Cazorla from right wing, Michael Dawson manages to make a clearance.
Gareth Bale gives away a free kick for an unfair challenge on Jack Wilshere. Mikel Arteta restarts play with the free kick.
The free kick is swung in left-footed by Jack Wilshere, save by Hugo Lloris.
Substitution Jermain Defoe joins the action as a substitute, replacing Emmanuel Adebayor.
Free kick awarded for a foul by Mousa Dembele on Jack Wilshere.
Centre by Aaron Ramsey, Theo Walcott produces a header from inside the area that goes over the crossbar.
Santi Cazorla takes a shot. Blocked by Kyle Walker.
Emmanuel Adebayor is ruled offside. Indirect free kick taken by Aaron Ramsey.
Substitution Tomas Rosicky is brought on as a substitute for Carl Jenkinson.
Close range strike by Gareth Bale goes over the bar.
The official flags Gareth Bale offside. Wojciech Szczesny restarts play with the free kick.
Corner from the right by-line taken by Gareth Bale, clearance made by Thomas Vermaelen.
The ball is crossed by Theo Walcott, Hugo Lloris makes a save.
Shot from just outside the box by Nacho Monreal misses to the left of the goal.
Centre by Carl Jenkinson, clearance by Jan Vertonghen.
Theo Walcott provided the assist for the goal.
50:23 Goal scored
Goal! - Per Mertesacker - Tottenham 2 - 1 Arsenal Per Mertesacker finds the back of the net with a headed goal from close range. Tottenham 2-1 Arsenal.
Free kick awarded for a foul by Scott Parker on Aaron Ramsey. The ball is sent over by Theo Walcott,
Free kick awarded for a foul by Scott Parker on Santi Cazorla. Direct free kick taken by Nacho Monreal.
Gareth Bale sends in a cross, Effort on goal by Gylfi Sigurdsson from just inside the area clears the crossbar.
Scott Parker is penalised for handball and concedes a free kick. Direct free kick taken by Thomas Vermaelen.
The second half begins.
45:00 +2:09 Half time
Half Time The ref blows to end the first period.
Free kick awarded for a foul by Mikel Arteta on Emmanuel Adebayor. Free kick taken by Benoit Assou-Ekotto.
Handball by Kyle Walker. Santi Cazorla takes the free kick.
Unfair challenge on Emmanuel Adebayor by Mikel Arteta results in a free kick. Benoit Assou-Ekotto restarts play with the free kick.
Kyle Walker gives away a free kick for an unfair challenge on Santi Cazorla. Aaron Ramsey takes the direct free kick.
Jack Wilshere decides to take a short corner.
Free kick awarded for a foul by Emmanuel Adebayor on Thomas Vermaelen. Direct free kick taken by Jack Wilshere.
Assist by Scott Parker.
38:32 Goal scored
Goal! - Aaron Lennon - Tottenham 2 - 0 Arsenal Aaron Lennon finds the back of the net with a goal from inside the six-yard box low into the middle of the goal. Tottenham 2-0 Arsenal.
Assist by Gylfi Sigurdsson.
36:12 Goal scored
Goal! - Gareth Bale - Tottenham 1 - 0 Arsenal Gareth Bale gets on the score sheet with a goal from inside the penalty area to the bottom right corner of the goal. Tottenham 1-0 Arsenal.
Olivier Giroud concedes a free kick for a foul on Benoit Assou-Ekotto. Free kick taken by Hugo Lloris.
Aaron Ramsey sends in a cross, Jan Vertonghen makes a clearance.
Gareth Bale crosses the ball in from the free kick, comfortable save by Wojciech Szczesny.
Booking Caution for Aaron Ramsey.
Unfair challenge on Aaron Lennon by Aaron Ramsey results in a free kick.
Direct free kick taken by Aaron Ramsey.
Booking Jan Vertonghen is shown a yellow card.
Free kick awarded for an unfair challenge on Olivier Giroud by Jan Vertonghen.
The ball is delivered by Gareth Bale, clearance made by Per Mertesacker.
Benoit Assou-Ekotto takes a shot. Per Mertesacker gets a block in.
Inswinging corner taken left-footed by Gareth Bale played to the near post.
Mousa Dembele fouled by Aaron Ramsey, the ref awards a free kick. Benoit Assou-Ekotto restarts play with the free kick.
Corner taken by Theo Walcott.
Mikel Arteta takes the free kick.
Booking Booking for Emmanuel Adebayor for unsporting behaviour.
Emmanuel Adebayor challenges Aaron Ramsey unfairly and gives away a free kick.
The offside flag is raised against Emmanuel Adebayor. Wojciech Szczesny takes the free kick.
The ball is swung over by Carl Jenkinson, save by Hugo Lloris.
Jack Wilshere fouled by Scott Parker, the ref awards a free kick. Aaron Ramsey takes the direct free kick.
Free kick awarded for an unfair challenge on Gareth Bale by Mikel Arteta. Direct free kick taken by Michael Dawson.
Theo Walcott takes a shot. Kyle Walker gets a block in.
Inswinging corner taken by Theo Walcott from the left by-line, Emmanuel Adebayor manages to make a clearance.
The official flags Olivier Giroud offside. Indirect free kick taken by Michael Dawson.
Inswinging corner taken left-footed by Jack Wilshere, Olivier Giroud takes a shot. Save made by Hugo Lloris.
Emmanuel Adebayor is caught offside. Wojciech Szczesny takes the free kick.
Gylfi Sigurdsson challenges Carl Jenkinson unfairly and gives away a free kick. Jack Wilshere delivers the ball from the free kick left-footed from right wing, Emmanuel Adebayor makes a clearance.
Mikel Arteta challenges Aaron Lennon unfairly and gives away a free kick. Free kick crossed left-footed by Gareth Bale. The assistant referee signals for offside against Michael Dawson. Wojciech Szczesny restarts play with the free kick.
This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.