Thierry Henry says farewell in style as late winner complete dramatic comeback for Gunners
Substitute Henry, playing in what could be his last ever Premier League game as he prepares to return to Major League Soccer with the New York Red Bulls, scored from close range to complete an impressive Arsenal fight-back.
Arsenal had seemed to be heading for defeat when James McClean put Sunderland ahead but fellow substitute Aaron Ramsey equalized before Henry struck a dramatic winner.
Robin van Persie wasted a decent early opening following a slip by Michael Turner but he went for precision over power and Simon Mignolet saved comfortably.
The Gunners, who showed one change from the side that crushed Blackburn 7-1 with Bacary Sagna coming in for Francis Coquelin, remained on the front foot as Alex Song and Mikel Arteta dominated the midfield exchanges
Theo Walcott came close to putting his side ahead midway through the first half when he was teed up by Van Persie but his angled shot went skidding past Mignolet’s far post.
Sunderland manager Martin O’Neill tried to halt Arsenal in its tracks by ordering his team to defend more deeply and the negative tactics worked as the visitors were unable to find the space necessary to get to Mignolet.
It was clear that Sunderland was ready to rely on counterattacks and the ploy nearly worked when Black Cats fans were calling for a penalty when Per Mertesacker slipped and the ball bounced up on to his arm, but Neil Swarbrick ignored their appeals.
Sunderland continued to invite Arsenal pressure but Wenger’s team lacked the creativity to unpick the defense and the almost paid the price at the other end when John O’Shea set his sights on goal following Craig Gardner’s deflected free-kick but he skied his shot over.
That seemed to invigorate Sunderland and Gardner went close to breaking the deadlock but his raking 25-yarder was pawed away by Wojciech Szczesny.
Thierry Henry was sent on to regain the initiative but the move was to no avail as Sunderland went ahead in bizarre circumstances in the 70th minute.
There seemed little danger when Per Mertesacker picked up possession just outside the box but then he crumpled to the ground and McClean showed no mercy, picking up the loose ball before slamming a low shot beyond Szczesny.
Mertesacker was taken off on a stretcher and Arsenal looked doomed but then his replacement, Ramsey, popped up on the edge of the box to equalize five minutes later.
This time Lady Luck smiled on Arsenal as the ball ricocheted off Gardner and fell kindly to the Wales captain who beat Mignolet with a shot from just outside the box that went in off a post.
Henry, who will make the final appearance of his loan spell for Arsenal in the Champions League on Wednesday, had the final say when he nipped in ahead of Michael Turner to turn in Andrey Arshavin’s cross for his 229th goal in Arsenal colors.