SUNDERLAND were left scratching their heads at a second successive Premier League defeat after somehow failing to find the net during a rousing finale against 10 man Arsenal.
The Black Cats were completely outplayed for the first half and were fortunate to be only one down at the interval, with Santi Cazorla putting the Gunners in front.
But after Arsenal full-back Carl Jenkinson was sent off just after the hour mark for a second booking, Sunderland spurned several spurned golden opportunities to get at least a point from the game.
Top scorer Steven Fletcher had a hat-trick of chances, while Titus Bramble blazed wide from six yards out.
Lee Cattermole returned to the starting line-up after playing just 15 minutes of first-team football in more than two months due to medial ligament damage.
The skipper was one of two changes to the side, with Danny Rose also included at left-back.
That freed Jack Colback to join Cattermole and Alfred N’Diaye in central midfield, with David Vaughan and Seb Larsson the two players to miss out.
Arsenal were forced into a late change with Laurent Koscielny, who had been an injury doubt before the game, ruled out during the warm-up and replaced by Carl Jenkinson in the starting line-up.
Arsene Wenger made two other changes from the sidewhich beat Stoke City seven days earlier, with Santi Cazorla and Aaron Ramsey replacing Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Abou Diaby.
Sunderland made a bright start and broke forward with purpose after just 30 seconds when Rose brought the ball out from the back, spread it right to Craig Gardner whose right-wing cross was met by a looping header from N’Diaye that was high and wide.
Seconds later, Walcott strode past John O’Shea and Titus Bramble on the edge of the area and unleashed a low shot that Simon Mignolet gathered at the second attempt.
Cattermole had scythed down Aaron Ramsey in the build-up to the chance and was retrospectively booked by referee Anthony Taylor.
Walcott had another chance in the fourth minute when he was played in by Olivier Giroud down the right-hand side of the area, but his effort from a narrow angle was beaten away by Mignolet.
Sunderland enjoyed a near escape in the 17th minute when the ball bobbled through to Giroud to the left of goal and the Frenchman unleashed a low left-footed effort which whistled narrowly beyond the far post.
A stunning stop from Mignolet denied Ramsey in the 32nd minute when the Welsh international unleashed a scorching right-footed drive from 20 yards that took a deflection off Titus Bramble, only for the Sunderland keeper to tip it away with a full-length save to his left.
But the breakthrough for Arsenal three minutes later when Sunderland’s inability to get out of their own territory took its toll.
Jack Wilshere fed Walcott just inside the area and he laid it off for Santi Cazorla, who unleashed a low left-footed drive across goal which skidded through a crowd of red and white shirts into the far bottom corner.
The Gunners almost added a second two minutes before the break when Gardner’s clearance was blocked by Nacho Monreal and Giroud squared to Walcott on the edge of the area whose drive towards the near post was inches wide.
Mignolet again denied Arsenal in first half stoppage time when Giroud managed to bobble it through to Ramsey, but from six yards out, the midfielder’s point-blank effort was blocked by the leg of the Sunderland keeper.
HALF-TIME Sunderland 0 Arsenal 1
O’Neill made a change at the interval with Larsson replacing Cattermole.
The Gunners were forced into a substitution of their own minutes into the second half, with Wilshere limping off and replaced by Diaby.
Giroud drove a left-footed shot wide of the far post from the edge of the area in the 56th minute after the Frenchman appeared to have clearly brought the ball under control with his arm.
But Sunderland had golden opportunity to draw level in the 58th minute after Stephane Sessegnon caught Jenkinson in possession on halfway.
Sessegnon burst forward and played Steven Fletcher in to the left of goal, but from 15 yards out, the Scot could only slice a left-footed shot into the side netting.
Three minutes later, Cazorla skinned Titus Bramble down the right-hand side of the Sunderland area, but fired his shot across goal wide of the far post.
Arsenal were reduced to 10 men in the 62nd minute though, when Jenkinson, who had been booked in the first half for a reckless challenge on Jack Colback, was handed a second yellow for chopping down Sessegnon.
Graham was introduced from the bench in the 68th minute and the mood among the crowd immediately lifted, with Arsenal’s defence finally under pressure.
Arsenal were still a danger though, Cazorla sending a dipping half-volley just over the top from 18 yards in the 74th minute after collecting Walcott’s lay-off.
The woodwork saved Sunderland moments later when Cazorla’s beautiful through-ball put Walcott clean through on goal.
Walcott dinked it delicately past the advancing Mignolet, only for the ball to cannon back off the far post.
Sunderland had a one-on-one chance of their own in the 77th minute when Fletcher blocked Per Mertesacker’s attempted clearance and had just Wojciech Szczesny to beat.
But Fletcher’s right-footed shot was blocked superbly by the body of the Polish stopper.
Rose then limped off with a recurrence of the hamstring problem which had kept the on-loan Spurs left-back on the sidelines for a month.
Fletcher was denied again by Szczesny in the 85th minute when he met Bramble’s header with a connecting header of his own that was brilliantly tipped over the top by the Arsenal keeper.
From the resulting corner, Szczesny flapped under pressure from Bramble, Fletcher couldn’t get a clean connection on it two yards out before Bramble sent a left-foot volley wide from four yards out.
Szczesny then turned around Johnson’s swerving shot from 25 yards in stoppage time after the England winger had unleashed a left-footed effort on the angle.
FULL-TIME Sunderland 0 Arsenal 1
SUNDERLAND: Mignolet, Gardner, Bramble, O’Shea, Rose (Vaughan 82), Cattermole (Larsson 46), Colback, N’Diaye (Graham 68), Johnson, Sessegnon, Fletcher. Subs not used: Bardsley, Mangane, Cuellar, Westwood. Booked: Cattermole (2), Larsson (63), Colback (76)
ARSENAL: Szczesny, Sagna, Mertesacker, Jenkinson, Monreal, Arteta, Ramsey, Wilshere, Walcott (Miquel 87), Cazorla, Giroud. Subs not used: Diaby, Rosicky, Podolski, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Mannone. Booked: Jenkinson (8). Sent off: Jenkinson (62), Walcott (83)
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