FOX Sports Staff
Arsenal's fortunes against the Black Cats could be neatly divided into "Before Wilshere" and "After Wilshere". The Gunners absolutely bossed Martin O'Neill's men in the opening half, thanks largely to the excellent Wilshere and Santi Cazorla, and would have put the game to bed if not for the heroics of Simon Mignolet.
Once Wilshere was forced off by injury though and Carl Jenkinson shown a second yellow soon after, it was a different match altogether as Sunderland began seeing a lot more of the ball and their forwards began to feature with increasing potency.
In the end, thanks to defending that was desperate and heoric in equal measure, Arsenal held out for all three points.
Simon Mignolet - 9
Mignolet is one of the most coveted custodians in England at the moment and yet again he showed why, keeping the marauding Arsenal offence at bay for most of the first half. It was a highlights reel worth of saves from the Belgian - the pick of which was an Aaron Ramsey thunderbolt which Mignolet had to tip behind at full stretch after it had taken a wicked deflection.
Craig Gardner - 4
Struggled to cope with the swift positional interchange of Arsenal's frontmen and gave away some silly fouls that could have proved costly. Even Olivier Giroud, not the best dribbler of the ball around managed to get the better of him on occasion. And when Sunderland were on the front foot, Gardner failed to go up in support as much as O'Neill would have liked.
Danny Rose (off 79') - 6
It was yet another solid performance from the England youngster who has become such a crowd favourite at the Stadium of Light. Made a couple of key blocks in the first-half after a hairy few moments early on against Theo Walcott, and took up great position wide up front as Sunderland applied immense pressure on Arsenal in search of the equaliser after the Londoners were reduced to 10 men.
Titus Bramble - 3.5
Struggled to cope with the Cazorla's and Wilshere's darting runs right through the heart of defence. Perhaps more crucially, missed an absolute sitter of a chance late on with the Arsenal defence under siege and looking like crumbling.
John O'Shea - 4
Was clueless just like Bramble when it came to coping with Arsenal's movement. Was decent in the air though, snuffing out the danger every time Giroud was lurking in and around the penalty area.
Lee Cattermole (45') - 6.5
Cattermole or, ahem, Clattermole? Defensive midfielders don't come more robust than the 24-year-old. He was constantly at it, nipping away at Wilshere's heels, putting in lunges than ranged from silly to superb and generally trying his best to break up Arsenal's play. Wilshere had too much quality for him though, but Cattermole gets points for never giving up.
It was probably a smart move by O'Neill to take him off after the interval though, given that Cattermole had been booked as early as the second minute.
Alfred N'Diaye (off 68') - 4.5
Was largely anonymous in the first half, failing to retain possession in the middle of the park and give lone forward Steven Fletcher anything to work with. Was rightly substituted for Danny Graham , given that Sunderland needed someone who could make things happen in the final third.
Jack Colback - 5.5
Took a leaf out of Cattermole's book - with some lusty challenges that let Arsenal players know they were in for a battle.
Adam Johnson - 5
Showed glimpses of his quality with some lovely dribbles down the left, but while they were pleasing on the eye, there was very little end-product except for one late effort which Wojciech Szczesny kept out.
Stephane Sessegnon - 7
Showed Nacho Monreal that life in the Premier League is not exactly a bed of roses - constantly troubling him with his pace down the flank. However, he had a couple of great chances to bring Sunderland back into the game but failed to hit the target with any of them.
Steven Fletcher - 7.5
Was starved of any service whatsoever in the first-half, but still managed to conjure some chances out of thin air. Was far more involved in the second-half and would have seen his name on the scoresheet if not for the Szczesny's excellence.
Sebastian Larsson (45') - 5.5
Would be thankful that he did not have to deal with Wilshere for too long, and took advantage of the relative freedom in the middle of the park to pump in some useful balls. Maybe could have been a bit more adventurous with his runs when Arsenal were rocking.
Danny Graham (68') - 4
Was brought on to provide more spark up front, but failed to adapt to the frenetic pace of the game.
David Vaughan (82') - n.a
Wojciech Szczesny - 9
It's going to be a tough job picking the goalkeeper in our Team of the Week after this round. Mignolet and Szczesny seemed to be involved in a personal duel over who could pull of the more spectacular save and the Polish keeper pulled out all the stops as Sunderland threatened to bury Arsenal under an offensive avalanche.
The highlight had to be the Steven Fletcher header that he tipped over the bar from almost point-blank range .
Bacary Sagna - 9
Slotted into the centre of defence after the last-minute withdrawal of Laurent Koscielny, Sagna played an equally, if not a more pivotal role as Szczesny in Arsenal's win with some other-worldly defending. Arsenal have given away more goals (13) from defensive mistakes than any other team in the Premier League - maybe Sagna could help them right that.
As for the man himself, he'd said before the game that his performance needed to lift - on Saturday it lifted off.
Per Mertesacker - 4
There seemed to be a sense of panic about the normally calm German. There were plenty of shanked clearances, one of which almost allowed Fletcher to equalise. Thankfully for the Gunners, both Sagna and Szczesny were at the top of their game.
Carl Jenkinson (sent off 62') - 3
Showed he has plenty to learn. Let the crunching challenges in the early part of the game break his concentration to pick up a booking within 10 minutes and followed that up with another reckless foul on Sessegnon just past the hour mark to hang his team out to dry.
Nacho Monreal - 5
The former Malaga man had impressed all on his debut, but his second game in England proved to be a tougher proposition, as Sessegnon skipped past him with worrying ease early on. Did settle down as the game progressed - and was smart up front, teeing up the the likes of Aaron Ramsey and Theo Walcott with some pleasing cut-backs.
Mikel Arteta - 6
Excellent in the first-half, a little lost in the second. Arteta was there for mop-up operations as Sunderland took the long-ball route to Fletcher before the interval, but seemed a bit overwhelmed when the red and white stripes started buzzing around him later on.
Jack Wilshere (off 51') - 7
Points deducted only because he had to hobble off early in the second-half. Prior to that, Wilshere had been the outstanding player of the match yet again. His transformation into the perfect blend of midfield battler and playmaker extraordinaire seems to be complete. Arsene Wenger and Arsenal fans must now just hope his injury is nothing serious.
Santi Cazorla - 7.5
His goal was a thunderous effort that even Mignolet could do nothing about, and his link-up play with Wilshere was sparkling but once the latter went off, Cazorla seemed to rein himself in somewhat, and lost that cutting edge which had threatened to rip Sunderland apart earlier. Passed up the chance to finish off the game when Arsenal caught the Black Cats on the counter.
Aaron Ramsey - 3.5
It was not the Welshman's best day. In fact, had it not been for Jenkinson's double brain-freeze, Ramsey would have been Arsenal's worst player on the pitch. Far too many passes went astray, far too many chances went begging and far too many attacks broke down thanks to him. It's an outing he'd want to forget. Soon.
Theo Walcott (off 87') - 6.5
Walcott's lay-off for Cazorla's goal was the mark of an intelligent footballer and deserves plaudits, but he'd be disappointed not have got on the scoresheet. It was a combination of poor finishing, excellent keeping and the fact that the net needs to be hung up on posts that denied him in the end.
Nonetheless, Arsenal can be pleased with the way he, Cazorla and Wilshere seemed to be on the same wavelength most of the time.
Olivier Giroud - 7
Surprising? Maybe, for Giroud wasn't great up front - unable to make up his mind what to do with the ball when confronted with more than one opposition player and his aerial prowess failed to really bother the opposition up front. However, the striker put in a shift and a half defensively as Arsenal fought tooth and nail for the win. It was an indication of great team ethic and one that deserves appreciation.
Abou Diaby (on 51') - 6
Wilshere's departure certainly hampered Arsenal, but that wasn't down to Diaby. He just isn't that kind of player. He did provide the Gunners with some breathing space from time to time via those galloping runs deep into the Sunderland half. Even managed to get off a couple of shots on target.
Ignasi Miquel (on 87') - n.a