Arsenal started brighter and better, with Theo Walcott threatening Simon Mignolet's goal twice in the first five minutes. Mignolet was Sunderland's best player of the first half, if not the game, and he made more than one excellent save to deny Arsenal the opener.
However, the breakthrough eventually did come before halftime, as it seemed it would. A trademark Jack Wilshere run through Sunderland's midfield resulted with the ball at Theo Walcott's feet. The Englishman passed the ball, which he's been reluctant to do recently, and Santi Cazorla's low drive across goal took a slight deflection to leave Mignolet helpless.
The tone of the game did not change until Carl Jenkinson stupidly received his second yellow card in the 62nd minute for a reckless challenge on Stephane Sessegnon.
Thereafter, Sunderland were usually on the front foot, manufacturing several golden chances that could have easily tied or won them the game. But Arsenal stood tall, and held the Black Cats off with more grit and determination than in any other game this season.
Let's look at how each Gunner performed.
Abou Diaby: 6
I can't remember Diaby doing that much after he came on for Jack Wilshere in the 51st minute, but he didn't make any big mistakes. Had one chance that he should have done better with.
Ignasi Miquel: N/A
The young Spanish defender made his first Premier League appearance of the season very late on to fill Carl Jenkinson's void for the final push for the win.
Wojciech Szczesny: 9.5
If it wasn't for the brilliance of Bacary Sagna, Szczesny would have been man of the match. The Pole showed why he is Arsenal's undisputed starting goalkeeper and one of the best in the Premier League with several outstanding reflex saves near the end of the game.
Just minutes before the end of normal time, Szczesny scooped another shot away from the goal line and subsequently dealt with the various types of corner kicks and crosses Sunderland hurled at him.
Perhaps the young goalkeeper's best day of the season.
Carl Jenkinson: 4.5
With Laurent Koscielny scrapped from the starting XI at the last minute due to a recurrence of his calf problem, Jenkinson found himself chucked into the lineup in the Frenchman's place.
Due to Bacary Sagna's generally poor form this season, there have been many calls (even from myself) for him to make way for the young Jenkinson.
But the Englishman showed today that he is not yet mature enough for the full-time role. He always looked volatile, and after he received a yellow card in the ninth minute, the writing was on the wall.
I hope this is food for thought for the lunatics who think he is ready to displace Sagna. That was madness.— gunnerblog (@gunnerblog) February 9, 2013
An utterly stupid, reckless tackle on Stephane Sessegnon deservedly earned him his marching orders and could have easily thrown away the three points.
Bacary Sagna: 10
When John Terry or Vincent Kompany are at their best, they seem to be man-mountains; everywhere at once, always where they need to be to repel an attack.
Despite playing out of position at center-back, Bacary Sagna had one of those games. If one man was going to single-handedly drag Arsenal over the finish line, it would be him. Every cross—high and low—and every runner into the box was defended with aplomb.
More than anyone else, Arsenal have their much-maligned right-back turned central defender to thank for willing them to three points.
Per Mertesacker: 7.5
Sagna did most of the work in central defense, but Mertesacker had to be extremely vigilant to stem the continuous waves of Sunderland attacks that descended upon the Arsenal defense after Carl Jenkinson got sent off.
He was as solid as usual and deserves to keep his place in central defense.
Nacho Monreal: 6.5
Monreal turned in another solid display that showed once again why Arsenal snatched him up on the final day of the transfer window.
Though thoroughly unremarkable, his performance was generally solid and, bar a few errors here and there, the Spaniard proved why he is a much better option than Andre Santos, who looks to be leaving the club in the next couple days.
Mikel Arteta: 6.5
It's often difficult to rate Arsenal's midfield maestro because his understated style of play is much better for the team than for pundits.
Usually, though, I can remember a few of his key contributions to the game. Today, it's difficult to recall any crucial moments of quality or error.
Jack Wilshere: 7.5
Another day, another performance from Jack Wilshere reminds us why he is so essential to this Arsenal team.
Before his injury in the 50th minute, Wilshere provided his usual driving runs through the heart of midfield, trying harder and with more success than anyone else to break the resolve of Sunderland's stolid defense.
Eventually, he did. One of those ambitious forays forward ended with Santi Cazorla's goal in the 36th minute.
Aaron Ramsey: 7
Ever since Ramsey decided to simplify his game, he has become a much better player. He continued that solidity against Sunderland, with a no-frills performance that illustrated his role as midfield pivot.
He never tried to play the more sophisticated pass, opting instead for the simple one that kept the attack alive. And when presented with an opportunity to do something special, he took it, lashing a shot destined for the far corner that was only kept out by the wonderful Simon Mignolet.
Santi Cazorla: 8
Cazorla's recent performances have not quite been up to the standard we know he is capable of. But, shifted to the left wing to accommodate Aaron Ramsey, he turned in a sterling performance.
His twisting, turning, threatening runs culminated in the 36th-minute chance that ultimately won Arsenal the game. Given a window of space by Theo Walcott, Cazorla drove a low strike that took a slight deflection and skated into the back of the net.
And his quality did not wane for the rest of the match. The little Spaniard could have sealed the game for Arsenal on a couple of occasions, but couldn't hit the target.
Theo Walcott: 7
As usual, Walcott was Arsenal's single most threatening player on the day. He could have scored twice within the first five minutes and continuously got involved on the right flank.
Unfortunately, his finishing forsook him. Walcott had several great chances to get on the scoresheet, including one from just outside the box that flew inches wide of the post.
Olivier Giroud: 7.5
Arsenal's only true striker is bound to get some flak for missing a few promising opportunities to take the lead or double it at various points during the match.
On a few different occasions, Giroud wriggled free of his marker and snapped off a shot that missed the bottom corner by inches. They were chances that one would expect a man of his quality and in his form to convert, but a striker cannot always be perfectly clinical.
As with Arsenal's win, we must appreciate the good parts of his performance and realize that the poor parts will improve on a different day.