Arsenal have gone third in the Premiership after racking up their eighth straight home victory of the season.
Arsène Wenger's side had won all five League games and two Champions League ties at Highbury before today's encounter with Sunderland. They were always in charge after Robin van Persie lashed in a 12th minute opener and Thierry Henry gave them even greater assurance before the break.
The home side were in cruise control for all but seven minutes of the second half as well. The brief hiatus started when Alan Stubbs scored for the visitors in the 75th minute, only the second Premiership goal Arsenal had conceded at Highbury this season. It ended when Henry fired home from Fabregas' superb pass with eight minutes left.
This comfortable win takes Arsenal to their highest position since the Premiership table really took shape. It was also their sixth game without defeat. But perhaps Arsène Wenger will be most pleased with the sparkling new strike partnership of Van Persie and Henry.
The manager made three changes from the side that had swept aside Sparta Prague in midweek. Jens Lehmann had recovered from his back complaint and replaced Manuel Almunia in goal while Cesc Fabregas came in for Mathieu Flamini. The final change was the most significant - Van Persie for Dennis Bergkamp.
It was a 'football afternoon' in North London. The skies overhead were grey and there was a hint of rain in the air; it was cold yet crisp. Perfect conditions for the beautiful game.
These two sides had met in the Carling Cup less than a fortnight ago and there seemed to be a cosy sense of over-familiarity in the opening stages.
The exception came in the seventh minute when Reyes stole the ball from Stubbs as the former Everton centre back attempt to pass. The Spaniard, who started on the left wing this afternoon, had a clear run on goal but pulled his shot wide of Ben Alnwick's right-hand post. It was great opportunity and he should have done better.
However the home fans would not have to wait long.
In the 12th minute Sol Campbell pumped a long ball forward and Van Persie nipped in between two defenders, chested the ball down before lashing a rasping drive in the net. It was his sixth strike in his 582nd minute of first-team football this season and keep his healthy goals-to-games ratio.
The match lost a little focus after that early strike. Arsenal did not look like adding to their lead and the only chance Sunderland could muster came when Steven Caldwell's header from Carl Robinson's free-kick bounced loosely across the face of goal.
The second goal came nine minutes before the break. It was well-crafted. Pires fed Van Persie on the centre line and his first-time flick sent Lauren racing up the right. The former Sevilla defender weighted his low cross perfectly for Henry to slide in a shot at the far post. For the record, it was the Frenchman's seventh in his sixth start this season.
Arsenal reached the break with a two-goal lead but in truth had barely broken sweat to achieve it. Sunderland were organised and committed but little else. It was no surprise when manager Mick McCarthy made a double substitution at the break. Jon Stead and Andy Gray were replaced by Anthony le Tallec and Stephen Elliot.
It did not make much difference. Five minutes in, Kolo Toure pumped a long ball forward and Henry nodded expertly into the path of Van Persie. The Dutchman sprinted clear and was faced by Alnwick, who had rushed out to the edge of his area. Van Persie attempted to chip the keeper while running at full speed. It is a difficult trick to pull off but the 22-year-old's confidence is sky-high at the moment. This time, however, he 'shanked' his effort wide of the post.
The former Feyenoord forward continued to catch the eye. In the 64th minute he twisted himself into space on the corner of the area, dropped his shoulder to beat his marker and fired high into the sidenetting. A minute later his low drive was parried by Alnwick.
In the 67th minute, Van Persie flicked a lofted pass the Henry just inside the area and the Frenchman had time to tee-up himself for an extravagant overhead kick. Alnwick was left a spectator as the ball bounced off the outside of his left-hand post.
It was Van Persie's last contribution. He was replaced by Bergkamp in the 70th minute. The 36-year-old striker was making in 300th Premiership appearance for the Club and on the strength of recent performances, the man he replaced is set for similarly long future at Arsenal.
The home team were playing Champagne football and seemed totally in control.
Then Sunderland got themselves back into the game.
Daryl Murphy's corner was nodded down by Caldwell and Stubbs stabbed the ball through a crowded goalmouth and into the area.
Their optimism did not last long. With eight minutes left, Fabregas threaded a gorgeous throughball to Henry and the French striker buried No 189 of his Arsenal career.
The revival continues.
- Henry Goal! Goal!
- Persie 71 Goal!
- Reyes 65
- Eboue 65
- Bergkamp 71
- Breen Yellow Card
- Stubbs Goal!
- Nosworthy 62
- Stead 46
- Gray 46
- Miller 62
- Tallec 46
- Elliott 46