The game got off to an explosive start as two Theo Walcott efforts were quickly followed up by some early yellow cards, with both teams flying into tackles. Predictably, Lee Cattermole picked up one, while the other went to Carl Jenkinson. The first proper chance of the game, however, went to Olivier Giroud, after Santiago Cazorla, excelling in a role out wide, linked up with Jack Wilshere to free the Frenchman, but his effort from a tight angle was wide.
Arsenal were clearly on top, and just after Simon Mignolet was called into action to deny Aaron Ramsey, the Gunners took the lead. Wilshere and Cazorla were again involved, the former finding Theo Walcott to tee up the Spaniard in the area, who made no mistake with a low drive to give Arsenal a deserved lead.
The decision to move Cazorla wide was paying off not just in goals, but also in interplay, as Arsenal produced one of their best passing displays of the season. They almost had a second when more intricate possession play set up Theo Walcott with a sight of goal outside the area, but his shot drifted wide. Just before half-time, the Gunners wasted another chance however, Ramsey hitting Mignolet from eight yards as the away jubilance over their display began to turn to worry over their missed opportunities.
When the teams came out for the second half, things started to go wrong for Arsenal. Five minutes in, Jack Wilshere had to hobble off with an injury after appearing to have a problem with his right leg, with Abou Diaby coming on to replace him. The second injury of the day for Arsenal, but things were about to get worse.
Ten minutes later, Stephane Sessegnon picked up the ball in midfield and accelerated away from Carl Jenkinson, only to be brought down with a lunge from the youngster. A second yellow card saw him given an early bath, and Arsenal looked in trouble as Sunderland duly took the opportunity to impose themselves on the game. Steven Fletcher should really have scored an equaliser after charging down Per Mertesacker's clearance to leave himself clean through, but Wojciech Szczesny made the save and Arsenal survived.
Sunderland reacted by introducing new signing Danny Graham in the hope of finding a goal, but they were almost undone immediately afterwards when Cazorla found Walcott with a superb pass, only for the winger to see his effort strike the post. Sunderland breathed a sigh of relief, but suffered a blow themselves afterwards as Danny Rose was withdrawn with an injury. Eventually, Arsenal were able to hang on and secure a much-needed win.