By Nik Brumsack at Stadium of Light
Alexis Sanchez scored a brace - including Arsenal's 1,500th Premier League goal - to give the Gunners a 2-0 win at the Stadium of Light on Saturday afternoon.
The Chilean international opened the scoring on the half hour in a tightly-fought fixture, racing through on goal before impudently dinking the ball home after Wes Brown had given the ball away just inside the Sunderland half,.
After a quiet and at times scrappy opening, the goal gave Arsenal all sorts of belief. But despite Santi Cazorla and Calum Chambers going close soon after, Arsene Wenger's side were unable to double their advantage before half-time.
Their task was considerably harder after the break - but a resolute defensive showing snuffed out whatever threat Sunderland could muster.
Arsenal eventually made sure of victory in the dying stages, Alexis capitalising on Vito Mannone's error to chip into the empty net.
This was a tough test for Wenger's men - and one that they overcame with no shortage of character, determination and fight.
SETTING THE SCENE
The big news pre-match was Theo Walcott's inclusion in the Arsenal squad. The 25-year-old had come through 45 minutes against Blackburn Under-21s a week ago and was deemed fit enough for a place on the bench, some 294 days after he was injured in an FA Cup third-round clash against Tottenham Hotspur.
The sides came into this clash in contrasting moods. Arsenal had launched a late comeback to secure a crucial 2-1 victory over Anderlecht in midweek, while Sunderland had had a week to stew over the club-record equalling 8-0 defeat at Southampton last weekend - their heaviest in 32 years.
It was no surprise that Wenger made changes to the team that had exerted so much energy and effort during Wednesday's dramatic win in Belgium. Wojciech Szczesny - suspended in midweek - replaced Emi Martinez in goal, with Mikel Arteta in for Jack Wilshere, who picked up his fifth yellow card of the season against Hull City last weekend.
Elsewhere, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain took Aaron Ramsey's place - the Welshman on the bench having only recently recovered from a hamstring problem.
The hosts meanwhile, included former Gunners Vito Mannone and Sebastian Larsson in their starting line-up.
Arsenal entered the game with a formidable record against Sunderland, unbeaten in four Premier League matches on Wearside and having lost only one of the last 21 league games between the sides.
In the build-up to this game, Wenger had called for his side to add "an extra degree" to their performances. They started well enough here, immediately wrestling the initiative by keeping the ball for long periods.
For all their possession - some 70 per cent in the opening 10 minutes or so - the Gunners initially struggled to create a clear chance. Sunderland were compact and deep - not allowing any space between the lines. John O'Shea had to be alert to clear after Mannone fumbled an Oxlade-Chamberlain cross before Danny Welbeck curled a 20-yarder just over following patient build-up play.
The hosts were inching into the game though, and Arsenal were indebted to a Per Mertesacker sliding challenge, which curtailed a rampaging Patrick van Aanholt run inside the area.
Then, out of nothing, Arsenal took the lead when Brown scuffed a backpass just inside his own half. Alexis latched onto the ball and raced clear, keeping his cool to delightfully chip the ball over Mannone.
The goal zapped the belief that Sunderland had started to build. Cazorla was given too much space outside the area and flashed an effort just wide before Chambers got in down the right and drew a smart stop from Mannone.
The Gunners were in complete control but, for all their pressure, had to settle for a one-goal lead at the break.
While Arsenal merited their advantage at the break, Wenger's men will have been wary of last season's meeting here - when the Gunners led 1-0 at half-time only to be pegged back by a re-energised Sunderland effort after the restart.
Like on that occasion, the hosts were better after the break, but bar a Jack Rodwell header, which was comfortably gathered by Szczesny, failed to mount a sustained threat on the Arsenal goal.
As the half wore on, the game became increasingly scrappy. Arteta was booked after catching Rodwell in the face, and Mathieu Flamini irked the home fans further with a fierce challenge on the halfway line.
The pattern of play suited the hosts, who snapped into tackles at will. The 44,000-strong crowd were right behind their team too, encouraged at what was a much-improved display.
Arsenal resisted their attacks well though, Flamini and Arteta tenaciously snuffing out attacks and providing the back four with protection throughout. Wenger had spoken of the need for his team to defend from the front in his pre-match press conference. They clearly listened - illustrated both by collective pressing and Alexis' determination to prevent Sunderland's more withdrawn players from having any time on the ball.
The visitors lost Kieran Gibbs to a knock with 15 minutes to play but were still making the better openings. Monreal, now operating at left back, charged forward and crossed for Welbeck, who headed over.
Sunderland continued to push, Arsenal continued to repel. For all the hosts' ambition, Poyet's side just couldn't fashion a clear opportunity. They went more direct as time wore on, bringing on Jozy Altidore. When a half chance was presented - courtesy of Szczesny's errant header - van Aanholt volleyed wide from distance with the goal vacant.
Arsenal have scored all sorts of goals since the Premier League's inception in 1992. This one brought up number 1,500, and was pretty unique. The tireless Alexis closed down Mannone before stealing the ball in the six-yard box and chipping beyond the retreating goalkeeper.
While not at their fluent best after the break, Arsenal had displayed another, more rugged, side to their game. Job done - and the Gunners up to fifth in the table.
Referee: Kevin Friend
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