At the conclusion of an active summer, Arsenal were left hot and bothered. Despite the presence of three new players around which Arsène Wenger intends to build his attack, Arsenal sweated and stuttered and found no way through Martin O'Neill's resilient Sunderland.

It felt like a chef had thrown together a bunch of ingredients but could not pull together a mouthwatering meal in a hurry. It was bland at times, as Arsenal lacked cohesion, communication and natural combinations. Perhaps it was not altogether surprising that they played a little like strangers. Compared to the final game from last season, Arsenal had seven different names in the starting XI.

Wenger acknowledged there was an inevitable, awkward question that will trail around them in performances when they falter in front of goal. If Robin van Persie were there would they have won? "Maybe you're right, maybe you're wrong. We can never check that. But it's true last year in every game he found something special. I never deny we lost a world class player and it is very difficult to replace him." Alex Song has also gone, with terms agreed with Barcelona for the Cameroonian's transfer.

O'Neill anticipated there might be a special nuance in the atmosphere hot on the heels Van Persie's move. But the most helpful thing from a Sunderland point of view was that Arsenal simply could not click. After two chances in 11 minutes – James McClean's snap shot and a well worked move that fell to the excellent Jack Colback – they resorted to a rearguard action. New arrival Carlos Cuéllar played his part and slotted expertly into the back four.

Arsenal's game revolved around Santi Cazorla. Fresh – if he'll pardon the expression – from a midweek long haul to Puerto Rico, he immediately showed he has the quality to pull strings at will. He found space easily, and with his polished touch and seemingly equal control with either foot, was able to spray passes, launch set pieces, and he even did not mind pressing to win the ball. First impressions suggest Arsenal might have landed themselves a gem. "It is difficult not to be pleased with him," said Wenger. "Basically he created all the chances."

But for him to be a successful creative hub, he needs greater understanding with his new team-mates, who were not quite on his wavelength.Arsenal did not make the best of Cazorla's invention. In the sixth minute he ambled forward and let rip. Simon Mignolet thrust up a strong hand to push the Spaniard's effort over the bar. Shortly after, Gervinho carved Sunderland open and Cazorla nipped in ahead of Lukas Podolski but steered his shot narrowly wide.

It was not quite happening for the Germany international. He was tantalisingly close but frustratingly far from clean connection on more than one occasion. Three minutes before half-time, the lead went begging as Mikel Arteta, Cazorla and Theo Walcott combined to set up Podolski, but the determined mass blocking of three Sunderland players smothered the danger. He gave way to Olivier Giroud, who scooped his first chance over the bar, then shanked wide when he was teed up by Cazorla. His physical presence augered well but his sharpness was not yet there.

O'Neill was relieved to see Sunderland hold out when they began to feel the effects of fatigue in the burning sunshine. Further forward they, too, were missing sharpness. "Stéphane Sessègnon had two days training and Louis Saha has not had anything all summer," noted O'Neill. "I thought coming here would be particularly difficult. We had a disappointing pre-season and we were very tired indeed, but that game will bring us on immensely." He also added that new recruits are expected before the close of the transfer window.

Wenger assessed that his new strikers were not entirely geared up to plunge into Premier League football. "Podolski is not ready yet," he admitted. "Physically he lacks that change of pace. Giroud had a great chance and we expected him to score." Wenger did not beat about the bush in concluding that the result was a "greatly missed opportunity."

Emerging from the shadow of Van Persie's departure might take time. It seems there is no quick fix.