Cats denied despite late push.
A late onslaught proved to be in vain as Sunderland suffered an unlucky defeat at the hands of Arsenal.
The visitors took the lead through Santi Cazorla 10 minutes before half time having had the better of the first period.
But Sunderland were revitalised after the break and took the game to the Gunners, particularly following Carl Jenkinson's 62nd-minute dismissal.
The hosts generated a number of chances but couldn't find a way beyond the excellent Wojciech Szczesny, who turned in a man of the match performance to earn three points for his side.
Two late saves on Steven Fletcher were the pick of Szczesny's work, and his goal was bombarded in the closing stages as Sunderland searched in vain for a share of the spoils.
Boss Martin O’Neill was pleased with his side's second-half efforts as they threw everything at Arsenal without managing to break their stubborn resistance.
The Sunderland chief made two changes ahead of the game with captain Lee Cattermole making his return from injury, joining Danny Rose in the starting line-up at the expense of Seb Larsson and David Vaughan.
Arsenal, meanwhile, were forced into a late remodelling of their defence after losing Laurent Koscielny to injury in the warm-up, with Jenkinson stepping in.
Both sides roared out of the blocks with a flurry of chances inside the first five minutes.
Sunderland threatened within 60 seconds as Craig Gardner spotted a superb angled run by Alfred N'Diaye, who headed just over after his colleague lofted a neat ball into the box.
N’Diaye, with deep-lying midfielders behind him, seemed to relish a more attacking assignment and looked to get forward throughout.
Arsenal responded with two efforts from England man Theo Walcott, who was a constant menace.
Walcott first tested Simon Mignolet down low, with the Belgian parrying the ball but recovering to gather well with the England man quickly closing him down.
The former Southampton star tried again soon afterwards, this time striking from a narrow angle but finding Mignolet well-positioned to beat the shot away.
With a big crowd roaring them on, Sunderland rolled up their sleeves and looked to get forward, with Arsenal equally willing to attack at speed.
Stephane Sessegnon's quicksilver feet saw him bamboozle Nacho Monreal to move into a shooting position, but Jenkinson was well-positioned to hack away the forward's shot from inside the six-yard box.
Perhaps summing up the see-saw nature of the early stages, Fletcher headed just off-target just moments before Olivier Giroud threatened at the other end, blasting a low drive inches past the far post after sneaking goal-side of the Sunderland defence.
The tide was turning in favour of the free-passing Gunners, who forced a superb save from Mignolet just after the half-hour when the Belgian sprung to his left in spectacular fashion to palm away a powerful 18-yard drive from Aaron Ramsey.
But the Sunderland keeper could do nothing about Arsenal's opening goal 10 minutes before the break.
Jack Wilshere's driving run down the middle unsettled the home defence and he found Walcott, who rolled the ball across for Cazorla to finish well with a crisp low drive through a crowd of players.
The Gunners kept the pedal to the metal, almost grabbing a second when Wilshere's clever ball to a wide-open Walcott was poked away by Danny Rose at the very last second.
Walcott then blasted just wide following a miscue by Titus Bramble, and Aaron Ramsey should have strengthened the visitors' lead with virtually the last kick of the first half.
The Welsh international picked a path beyond his marker in a packed penalty area and poked the ball goalwards, but Mignolet was quickly on the scene to pull off another excellent save and snuff out the danger.
Martin O'Neill would have been glad of the half-time break with Arsenal in the driving seat, and he replaced Cattermole – booked early on – with Seb Larsson ahead of the start of the second period.
And O'Neill's men were much improved after the break, with the energetic Larsson key to the revival in their fortunes.
A mistake by Ramsey almost cost the Gunners just after the hour – the midfielder caught in possession to set up a break by Sessegnon, who found Fletcher only for the striker to fire into the side netting.
And the momentum swung in Sunderland's favour moments later as a poor decision by Jenkinson saw the Gunners reduced to 10 men.
The defender – already walking a tightrope with a booking to his name – slid in on Sessegnon with the ball having passed him by, and referee Mr Taylor duly produced a second yellow card.
That dismissal, coupled with the introduction of Danny Graham off the bench, provided the hosts with a timely boost as they poured forward looking for an equaliser.
Sessegnon blasted a shot across goal and away, but Arsenal remained a potent counter-attacking force and almost doubled their lead on the break with 15 minutes to play.
Walcott used his pace to streak beyond the home defence and rolled the ball under Mignolet, but the shot bounced off the face of the post before being hacked away by Gardner.
The hosts poured forward and came agonisingly close 12 minutes from time, when Fletcher charged down an attempted clearance to open up some space and forced a fine save from Szczesny with a powerful drive from the edge of the box.
Still Sunderland pushed, but they just couldn't find a way past Szczesny who produced a world-class tip-over to stop Fletcher's close-range header six minutes from time.
And from the resulting corner, Fletcher almost hooked home before the ball bounced out to Bramble, who fired the ball through the scramble – but wide.
Adam Johnson thought he'd equalised with a late snapshot from the right-hand apex of the box, but yet again Szczesny was there to save, with the ball running tantalisingly loose before being hacked away.
Giroud and Cazorla threatened briefly on the counter-attack but Arsenal were hanging on for dear life at the end, with keeper Mignolet even advancing for a late corner.
O'Neill was pacing up and down half the length of the West Stand touchline in the final seconds as he urged his side on, heading and kicking every ball, but the visitors held out despite the hosts' efforts.
- Rose (Vaughan)
- Yellow Colback
- Yellow Cattermole (Larsson)
- N'Diaye (Graham)
- Jenkinson Yellow Red
- Wilshere (Abou Diaby)
- Walcott (Miquel) Yellow
- Yellow Larsson
- Abou Diaby