The match was a joy for neutrals but a nightmare for fans of both clubs as the game ebbed and flowed throughout the 90 minutes as Spurs and the Gunners went on the attack in the search of all three points.
The two-goal lead was cut to one when Spurs midfielder Tom Huddlestone produced a stunner on the stroke of half-time and then another penalty against Arsenal was awarded when Aaron Lennon was felled in the area with van der Vaart converting with just under 20 minutes remaining.
There were chances galore for both sides but the result is what neither club wanted as the Gunners relinquished second spot on the table to Chelsea and are now six points behind league leaders Manchester United whilst Tottenham are still two points in arrears of Manchester City for the fourth and final Champions League position.
Venue: White Hart Lane, North London
Referee: Martin Atkinson
Yellow cards: TOT - nil
ARS - Gael Clichy 45+4’, Alex Song 46’, Johan Djourou 47’
GOAL Arsenal got the dream start in just the fifth minute when captain Cesc Fabregas played a deft through-ball for Theo Walcott who was on-side in a central position and sped away from the Tottenham defenders to slot home neatly past Heurelho Gomes for his eighth of the season.
GOAL But Spurs were soon back on level terms when Vedran Corluka found Rafael van der Vaart on the edge of the area with the Dutchman controlling nicely with his left foot before finishing sweetly past Wojciech Szczesny with his non-preferred right to make it 1-1 in a scintillating beginning.
Robin van Persie forced a strong save from Gomes when he tried his luck from a tight angle in the 11th minute before the Gunners struck again just moments later.
GOAL Samir Nasri was the man who took the onus and rifled a shot from outside the area, just at the top of the ‘D’, through a wall of players and a slight deflection off Michael Dawson was enough to get it past an unsighted Gomes for his 10th of the season to restore the lead for the visitors.
Spurs were slightly unnerved by Arsenal’s second goal and begun to mislay some passes as the Gunners continued on their attacking way and almost grabbed a third when van Persie played a smart ball into the path of a rampant Walcott on the right flank and although his angled shot again beat Gomes, he could not sneak it in at the far post in what was a huge let-off for Harry Redknapp’s men.
Szczesny was called into action on the half-hour mark when Luka Modric cut into the box with a fierce left-footed shot which the Pole assuredly fisted away but the next goal went to Arsenal in quite superb style.
GOAL Bacary Sagna’s cross from the right was not properly dealt with by ex-Gunner William Gallas with Walcott pouncing on the ball near the byline, supplying a cheeky chip to van Persie whose initial header was well-saved by Gomes but the Dutchman managed to fire the rebound into the roof of the net for his 14th league goal in as many starts.
GOAL But another twist emerged when Tom Huddlestone scored with a scorcher on the stroke of half-time after a short delay when Gareth Bale went down. The ball was not cleared well enough by the Gunners defence and it fell to the midfielder who timed his left-footed thunderbolt with perfection, crashing it through teammate van der Vaart’s legs and past Szczesny to make it 3-2.
Tottenham were looking extremely dangerous in the early stages of the second half and were not far away when van der Vaart’s free-kick whizzed over the crossbar about five minutes before the Dutchman’s angled shot needed saving with Szczesny knocking it out for a corner thanks to an outstretched left hand.
The ball was in the back of the net in the 57th minute when van Persie struck from the edge of the area after a long Fabregas ball but he was adjudged to be off-side much to the delight of the Spurs fans.
The tempo of the game remained upbeat and as the Gunners kept coming, Walcott could not make up his mind around the 65-minute mark when he was played into the area but pulled his shot wide.
Five minutes later, Spurs were awarded a penalty when Szczesny brought down a racing Aaron Lennon giving referee Martin Atkinson no chance but to point to the spot.
GOAL van der Vaart stepped up to the mark and whipped it into the back of the net, sending the Arsenal keeper the wrong way, and tying it up at 3-3.
A moment later, Younes Kaboul received a brilliant backheel from van der Vaart before teeing it up from the right for Modric in the centre of the box but Szczesny made a reaction save with his legs to keep his side in the contest.
Immediately down the other end, Fabregas tried his luck from the top of the area but Gomes made a top save less than a minute before the same two players were involved with the Brazilian again coming up with the goods.
The chances kept coming and in the 79th minute, Peter Crouch had his first opportunity when Benoit Assou-Ekotto drove a ball in from the left but the towering striker saw his header, in customary fashion, tipped over the bar by a busy Szczesny.
The impressive Pole again did the job when substitute Sandro made a run into the box and struck it sweetly but it could not get through the legs of the Arsenal custodian as the home side looked for a winner but it didn’t come as the final whistle came to end a brilliant football match.
Heurelho Gomes (gk) – Vedran Corluka (Kaboul 46’), William Gallas, Michael Dawson, Benoit Assou-Ekotto – Rafael van der Vaart, Tom Huddlestone, Luka Modric, Gareth Bale (Lennon 46’) – Roman Pavlyuchenko (Sandro 78’), Peter Crouch
Wojciech Szczesny (gk) – Bacary Sagna, Laurent Koscielny, Johan Djourou, Gael Clichy – Alex Song, Abou Diaby (Wilshere 52’) – Theo Walcott (Arshavin 82’), Cesc Fabregas, Samir Nasri (Bendtner 82’) – Robin van Persie