Yorke puts lid on Wenger's week

Champions' third defeat in eight days opens door for Liverpool as United struggle
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The Independent Football

And then there were three. Arsenal, who spent a year building a reputation for invincibility, have proved themselves to be mortal after all. They were brought low yesterday for a third successive game by the old one-two – 1-2, 1-2, 1-2.

And then there were three. Arsenal, who spent a year building a reputation for invincibility, have proved themselves to be mortal after all. They were brought low yesterday for a third successive game by the old one-two – 1-2, 1-2, 1-2.

The eight days that changed the world of north London football began with Wayne Rooney's last-minute winner for Everton at Goodison Park last Saturday; continued with the stunning home defeat by Auxerre in the Champions' League on Tuesday; and were completed by Dwight Yorke at Highbury yesterday when he scored the winner in Blackburn Rovers' victory. "2-1 to the other lot; 2-1 to the other lot..." just will not do as a chant.

Losing just will not do for Arsène Wenger, either. It was an hour after the match that Arsenal's manager finally emerged from the dressing room to admit: "Of course everyone is very concerned but this team is highly committed and I'm very confident that we will come back even stronger after our bad patch. Football is sometimes unexplainable. The team gave everything and fought very hard, and with the chances that we created, we feel badly done by."

It was November 2000 when Arsenal last tasted defeat in three successive matches, and the pattern was familiar. That time it was also Everton who began the sequence, Spartak Moscow who continued it in the Champions' League and Leeds United who wrapped it up.

Before Yorke clipped Egil Ostenstad's square pass over the diving David Seaman six minutes after the interval, it had been the Edu and Friedel show at Highbury. The game was only six minutes old when Edu, forming a Brazilian midfield axis with Gilberto Silva in the absence of the suspended Patrick Vieira, confounded Seaman – not difficult these days, some would say – with a perfect, but inadvertent, lob from Yorke's cross. Any striker would have been proud of the finish but, as an own goal, it took its place in the list of freaks and flukes that have blighted Seaman since the summer.

The game developed into a contest between Arsenal and the Rovers goalkeeper, Brad Friedel, with the American keeping out a succession of efforts by Wiltord, Henry, Kanu and Ljungberg. When he was finally beaten it was by Edu, who drove home a free-kick to equalise.

Blackburn found inspiration again after the interval, broke quickly and regained the lead. Even the late dismissal of Rovers' Garry Flitcroft could not resurrect Arsenal.

With Manchester United unexpectedly held at home by Aston Villa, the main beneficiaries were Liverpool. For a few minutes it seemed they, too, would slip up, but Michael Owen earned them a 2-1 home win over Tottenham Hotspur with a penalty four minutes from time. The spot-kick, which Owen earned when Stephen Carr brought his flying run to an abrupt end, put them four points clear of Arsenal, with Chelsea – 2-0 home winners over West Bromwich Albion – Tottenham and Manchester United four points further back.

United's match was notable for two novelties – Villa's first away goal in the Premiership this season and the Uruguayan Diego Forlan's first goal for United from open play. There was much more familiarity, though, about the action at the Riverside. Leeds United conceded a late goal, this one from Gareth Southgate to earn Middlesbrough a 2-2 draw, and Alan Smith was sent off for the eighth time. His late dismissal proved the turning point in a match that ended with the sending-off of Boro's Frenchman Franck Queudrue and scuffles on the pitch involving several players after the Dutchman George Boateng appeared to spit at an opponent.

Not such a happy return for Leeds manager Terry Venables, who helped to save Boro from relegation last season, or for the surviving North Korean players who had beaten Italy during the 1966 World Cup in a match at Boro's old ground, Ayresome Park. This, perhaps, was not the place for promoting international relations.

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