SUNDERLAND warmed up for the Capital One Cup final with a ramshackle display after a 4-1 rout at title-chasing Arsenal.
The Black Cats conceded four goals for the third time of Gus Poyet’s stewardship after paying the price for a woeful first half at the Emirates.
Olivier Giroud began a comfortable afternoon for the Gunners by breaking the deadlock after just five minutes before he pounced on Santiago Vergini’s hapless back-pass to double the advantage.
Tomas Rosicky capped a stunning move to make it three before the interval, with Sunderland failing to produce any kind of resistance.
Gus Poyet made a double change at the interval and Sunderland were much-improved in the second half, albeit they fell 4-0 behind when Laurent Koscielny netted a free header from a corner.
Substitute Emanuele Giaccherini pulled one back in the final 10 minutes with a sweetly-struck shot from 25 yards.
Gus Poyet retained just three of the starting XI from the previous weekend’s FA Cup fifth round victory over Southampton, as Vito Mannone, Phil Bardsley, Ki Sung-Yueng, Adam Johnson, Jack Colback, Jozy Altidore, Liam Bridcutt and Marcos Alonso all returned to the fold.
Bridcutt was preferred to Lee Cattermole in the holding midfield role, with the latter not involved at all, as Poyet saved him for the Capital One Cup final.
Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger made five changes to the midweek Champions League defeat to Bayern Munich, including leaving out £42million summer signing Mesut Ozil.
It took the Gunners just five minutes to break the deadlock when Jack Wilshere got half a yard on Ki Sung-Yueng to latch onto Tomas Rosicky’s first-time flick.
Wilshere’s attempted shot was blocked by Phil Bardsley, but the ball span perfectly into the path of Olivier Giroud, who calmly stroked it into the bottom corner from 10 yards out.
Sunderland should have made more of a swift counter-attack in the 15th minute from Arsenal’s corner, as Ki slipped in Marcos Alonso down the left-hand side of Arsenal’s area.
Alonso’s cross was poor, but it almost caught out Wojciech Szczesny at the near post, who was forced to readjust before diving low to his right.
Lukas Podolski produced a rasping left-footed drive from 25 yards in the 21st minute, but Vito Mannone was equal to it as he smartly tipped it over the bar.
Arsenal doubled their advantage in the 31st minute after a suicidal back pass from Santiago Vergini on the right-hand touchline went straight to Giroud.
The French striker comfortably rolled the ball inside the near post beyond the exposed Mannone.
Three minutes before the break, Arsenal made it 3-0 with a beautiful goal.
The Gunners produced an exquisite move of one-touch passing on the edge of the Sunderland area before Giroud flicked the ball in behind the Black Cats back-line for Tomas Rosicky, who had started the move.
Rosicky got to the ball ahead of Mannone before lifting it delicately over the goalkeeper.
HALF-TIME Arsenal 3 Sunderland 0
Poyet made a double change at the break with Seb Larsson and Emanuele Giaccherini introduced for Adam Johnson and Jozy Altidore - a switch which saw Fabio Borini move into the central striker role.
Borini immediately produced Sunderland’s first effort on target in the 49th minute after Larsson threaded a well-weighted ball down the right-hand channel of the area.
The on-loan Liverpool striker’s first touch took him wide, but from an acute angle, he unleashed a powerful right-footed shot which was well tipped over the top by Szczesny.
Vergini’s afternoon almost got even worse in the 56th minute when he slashed at a Bacary Sagna cross from the left and the ball drifted inches wide of the far post.
But from Santi Cazorla’s resulting corner, Arsenal made it four as Laurent Koscielny met it completely unmarked eight yards out and directed his header effortlessly into the net.
An excellent save from Szczesny denied Sunderland a consolation in the 70th minute when Larsson knocked back Marcos Alonso’s cross from the left at the far post.
Larsson’s pull-back was straight into the path of Ki Sung-Yueng, whose stab towards the near post was pushed away smartly by the Arsenal stopper.
Mannone prevented substitute Serge Gnabry making it five in the 76th minute after Wilshere freed him down the right-hand side of the area.
Gnabry struggled to get the ball out of his feet, and then saw his shot across goal palmed away by the Sunderland keeper.
Moments later, Larsson was a whisker away at the other end with a right-footed free-kick from the left-hand side of goal which drifted inches beyond the far post.
In the 81st minute, Sunderland did grab a goal for their effort as Giaccherini netted his first goal since September.
Szczesny could only punch away Larsson’s free-kick from the right and it came out as far as Giaccherini 25 yards out.
The Italian international brought the ball under control and then unleashed a sweetly-struck dipping half-volley which rocketed into the bottom corner.
FULL-TIME Arsenal 4 Sunderland 1
ARSENAL: Szczesny, Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny (Flamini 67), Monreal (Jenkinson 46), Wilshere, Arteta, Rosicky (Gnabry 73), Podolski, Cazorla, Giroud. Subs not used: Fabianski, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Sanogo, Bendtner
SUNDERLAND: Mannone, Bardsley, Vergini, O’Shea, Alonso, Bridcutt, Ki (Scocco 73), Colback, Johnson (Giaccherini 46), Borini, Altidore (Larsson 46). Subs not used: Ustari, Celustka, Cuellar, Gardner. Booked: Giaccherini (53)
* Don’t miss the online Football Echo for the biggest and best coverage of SAFC – including your guide to Wembley, Trafalgar Square and much more for the Capital One Cup final.