Arsenal slipped to their second Premiership defeat of the season at Middlesbrough on Saturday.
Arsène Wenger's side all the pressure in the early stages and nearly received the perfect start when Jose Antonio Reyes hit the post. They continued to look the better side in the first half but were shocked five minutes before the break when Yakubu turned on the edge of the area and steered a shot beyond Jens Lehmann.
The visitors looked lively once again after the restart and were appealing for a penalty when Boro broke forward in the 59th minute and Massimo Maccarone steered home a second.
Reyes did give Arsenal hope two minutes into injury time but, in truth, it was difficult to deny the merit of a home victory. The visitors had created numerous chances but had not taken enough of them. Boro had manufactured fewer but had grabbed the opportunities that came their way with both hands.
Wenger had suggested that he would rotate his squad after the international exertions in the week. He was as good as his word. Six of the eleven he started at The Riverside had not been involved for their countries.
Thierry Henry had picked up a groin problem during the French side's victory in Ireland and Sol Campbell, having recovered from his calf problem, was considered not match-sharp despite playing two Reserve games in the past fortnight. Mathieu Flamini, who had also enjoyed 180 minutes for the second-string, stepped up for his first start of the season for the full team.
Arsenal were quick out of the traps. With barely 30 seconds played, Reyes charged down a clearance from the dawdling Ugo Ehiogu but his low left-foot shot only found the midriff of the diving Mark Schwarzer.
The Spaniard was enjoying a sparkling start and should have put Arsenal ahead in the fourth minute. Dennis Bergkamp sent Alexander Hleb clear on the right and the Belarussian midfielder waited intelligently before squaring to Reyes. The former Sevilla striker also displayed a cool head by darting inside his marker to give himself space. His sidefoot shot beat Schwarzer but hit the base of the post and ricocheted to safety.
It was all Arsenal. In the eighth minute, Reyes profited from hesitancy between Abel Xavier and Gareth Southgate before sending Pires clear. The centre half recovered to block the Frenchman's shot.
Boro rallied and started to show some guile on the break. They forced a number of corners but, frankly, did little with them. However it did stop Arsenal attacking and Bergkamp's 28th-minute hack over the bar from Reyes' cross proved to be Arsenal only real chance between the opening stages and Boro's goal.
That arrived five minutes before the break. George Boateng's pass found Yakubu just inside the area but with Kolo Toure in close attendance. The Nigerian tried to flick the ball to his right but his miscue did more to unbalance his marker. That allowed Yakubu to turn and curl a right-foot shot into the far corner of the net.
Arsenal upped the tempo after the restart. Reyes had a shot charged down and Cole stole into the six-yard box but could not get his shot away.
However, despite all the Arsenal pressure, only Lehmann's right-hand kept the visitors in the game when Yakubu fired towards the near post in the 54th minute. The ball fell kindly for the former Portsmouth frontman after Cygan tackled Maccarone. His drive was powerful but the German superbly palmed the ball aside.
The respite would last five minutes. The move for Boro's second goal started in their own area. Arsenal were screaming for a penalty after Xavier felled Hleb as he burst through. The referee waved play on and Schwarzer's huge kick was only half-cleared by Cygan's header just outside his own area. Yakubu returned the ball immediately and Maccarone sprung the offside trap before steering his shot just inside the post. It was the Italian's first goal in over a year.
Not surprisingly the two-goal cushion gave Boro confidence and they began to look worthy of their lead. Arsenal brought on Robin van Persie but did not manage to conjure up a decent chance to get themselves back into the game until the 89th minute when Reyes fired across the face of goal and Schwarzer had to turn the ball behind.
Two minutes into injury time, the Spaniard broke clear and steered home his shot from an acute angle. It made for a frantic final few minutes - including a snatched, sliced shot by Cole - but Boro held on.
- Lauren Yellow Card
- Cole Yellow Card
- Flamini 60 Yellow Card
- Pires 72
- Reyes Goal!
- Fabregas 60 Yellow Card
- Persie 72
- Queudrue Yellow Card
- Johnson 65
- Boateng Yellow Card
- Rochemback Yellow Card
- Maccarone 78 Goal!
- Yakubu 90 Goal!
- Pogatetz 65
- Doriva 78
- Graham 90