The last time Sunderland beat Arsenal in the FA Cup - at the semi-final stage on Saturday 7 April 1973, goals from Vic Halom and Billy Hughes sending the Wearsiders to Wembley - they went on to win the trophy. If Martin O'Neill's in-form side prevail today against the jiggered old Gunners, will history go on to repeat itself? Major figures in the world of art will hope not, because less than 24 hours after the aforementioned victory, Pablo Picasso died.
The likes of Tracey Emin and Ai Weiwei can simmer down, though, because Arsenal have the upper hand in recent cup meetings, having knocked Sunderland out in 1991 and 1997. But let's be honest, all this is as relevant as Arsenal's 5-0 cup win in 1906, or Sunderland's 6-0 victory in 1893, or Sunderland's 2-1 triumph in 1961. I don't know why I mention any of it, really. Actually, we all know why, it's to while away the time until kick off, but let's not ruin the magic.
More to the point is Sunderland's recent form: Four wins in their last six, with only one loss, although that was last time around against, er, Arsenal.
Arsenal might have won here at the Stadium of Light last week, but any confidence gained by that result was lost after that humiliation in Milan: Three wins in their last six, plus two losses, does not a happy Big Club make.
Therefore this unpredictable game has the potential to be: A cup classic for the ages.
Kick off: 5.15pm.
First and foremost, ladies and gentlemen, the star of today's show: Howard Webb (S Yorkshire).
Sunderland welcome back captain Lee Cattermole from injury, with Fraizer Campbell making way: Mignolet, Bardsley, O'Shea, Turner, Richardson, Larsson, Cattermole, Gardner, Colback, McClean, Sessegnon. Subs: Westwood, Bridge, Campbell, Ji, Meyler, Kyrgiakos, Elmohamady.
Gervinho comes straight back into the Arsenal team, hoping to put his Cup of Nations heartache with Côte d'Ivoire behind him: Fabianski, Sagna, Djourou, Vermaelen, Coquelin, Song, Arteta, Gervinho, Ramsey, Oxlade-Chamberlain, van Persie.
Subs: Szczesny, Rosicky, Walcott, Squillaci, Arshavin, Chamakh, Benayoun.
To the strains of the Dance of the Knights, the teams take to the pitch. Sunderland in their trademark red-and-white stripes, Arsenal in a fetching two-tone blue number. Arsenal win some moral credit at the handshake: their mascot gives her opposite number a Junior Gunners pennant, but she gets the tapered end of eff all in return. Oh Sunderland!
And we're off! Arsenal get the ball rolling. A fair few empty seats around the stadium, but let's not get sniffy, there's a recession on. Plenty of noise nonetheless. And it's a bright start by Arsenal, Gervinho racing past Bardsley down the left and winning a corner within the first 50-odd seconds. So, what happens at this corner, then?
2 min: Nothing, that's what.
4 min: Arsenal have started well here. Oxlade-Chamberlain races down the right and manages to dig out a cross despite being given a postage-stamp-sized area of the pitch to work in. He's some prospect, this lad. Nothing doing from this cross, mind you, Turner cutting it out before the ball gets anywhere near the danger zone. "So Clattermole returns in time to get sent off today and Gervinho may mark his return by capping a customarily useless display by missing a penalty," predicts Lou Roper. Meanwhile Ben Dunn asks: "Gus Caesar or Djourou? Tough call." Tough crowd in tonight. Where is the love?
6 min: Van Persie is upended 20-odd yards from goal, right in the middle of the pitch. Arteta takes the free kick, and whips a delicious attempt inches wide left of goal. Mignolet had it covered, but only just; that wasn't far away from the top-left corner at all. "Maybe Picasso painted this when the FA Cup final was played at the Millennium?" wonders Robi Polgar, concentrating on those leeks, I'll be bound.
8 min: Coquelin tries to sprint past Larsson, but at full pelt begins to hop erratically, clutching the back of his left leg. He drops to the turf and rolls about, his hamstring clearly gone. Poor lad. He'll be replaced by Squillaci.
10 min: Sessegnon is this close to breaking clear down the inside-left channel pas Djourou, but the Arsenal man gets a foot in before the Sunderland striker can break into the box. That was nearly a one-on-one; the crowd raise their voice accordingly.
11 min: McClean wins a corner down the left. The corner's swung into the near post, and hits Song on the left hand. Did he move his hand towards the ball? I'm not sure he had much of an idea what was going on there. The referee's not having any of it, anyway. Arsenal clear.
14 min: Sessegnon takes a pop from 25 yards from the centre of the pitch, dropping a shoulder, nudging the ball a couple of rolls to the right, and unleashing a rising effort goalwards. The ball drifts just wide right, and probably a wee bit too high as well. But a very decent effort nevertheless, Sunderland's first of the game.
18 min: Song is limping after a coming together with Cattermole. To be fair to the much-maligned Sunderland clanker, that was a fair 50-50 challenge. On the touchline, Arsene Wenger hops around in the irate style. "Here's some good fitba art, from the mighty Keith Haring," writes Ryan Dunne. "I think it's called Two Yellow Jelly Babies Contesting a Dropped Ball. My money's on the dude on the left."
20 min: With Coquelin off, Song limping, and Ramsey looking none too happy either, Arsenal are prodding the ball about gingerly at present. They're doing nothing whatsoever up front. "Arsenal clearly can't be trusted with defenders," opines Matt Dony. "If I had broken my Transformers with the regularity that Arsene breaks his backs, my dad would have taken them all off me."
22 min: Ramsey dinks a clever header over Turner and chases after it, looking to break into space down the middle of the pitch. Turner checks his progress cynically, and is lucky to escape from the situation without a yellow. It's a free kick, but nothing comes of it. The crowd are a bit quiet at present; Sunderland aren't putting anything of note together either.
25 min: It's very shapeless, this. Gardner nearly releases Sessegnon straight down the middle with a first-time flick, but Vermaelen is in prime position to sweep up. "My knowledge of hamstrings is based entirely on uninformed supposition," begins Ian Copestake, promisingly. "I don't understand how they can 'go' or snap (do they snap?) and then be right again without invasive surgery involving finding the end of an elastic band and reconnecting it somewhere up the leg." Any medical experts out there able to help? A doctor in the house? We'll even accept the drunken ramblings of a struck-off quack, we're not fussy.
28 min: Van Persie slides a pass down the inside-right channel for Gervinho, who takes a touch to the right before looking for the top-right corner from the edge of the area. Mignolet is right behind it, and palms the strong effort behind for a corner.
29 min: From the corner, Sunderland sweep straight up the other end and win one themselves down the left. Larsson whips a ball straight through the six-yard box. Any touch, and it's a goal. Or an own goal. Luckily for Arsenal, everyone misses it, and the ball sails out for a goal kick on the other side.
31 min: Song splits Sunderland's defence in two with a gorgeous slide-rule pass down the inside-left channel. Van Persie looks to be clear in the area, but O'Shea gets a toenail to the ball before the striker can shoot. Van Persie goes over, but doesn't claim for a penalty. That was lovely football by Arsenal.
34 min: Sessegnon chases a long hoof down the inside-right channel. He's nearly got the better of Djourou, but the Arsenal defender keeps strong and toes the ball back to his keeper before the striker can break clear. Here's Ciaran McGowan with three observations for the price of one: "1. We need a 'Do I Not Like That' style documentary with Wenger; 2. Despite Squillaci's previous Maldini-esque defensive displays for Arsenal, his arrival here doesn't fill me with confidence; 3. Walcott poses the same threat on the bench as he does when he is on the field."
36 min: Arsenal are beginning to ping the ball around nicely. They're slowly gaining the upper hand. Sunderland haven't got anywhere near the Arsenal box for quite a while. "I believe Gervinho is the only Arsenal player outside of Fabianski not to have spent a good amount of time on the ground," exaggerates JR in Illinois, but not by much. "Weird. Also, Arsenal need to stop crying for Sunderland players to be carded. Haven't they noticed who the ref is? You could punch an opponent in the face and not get carded by Webb, just so long as it's in the early part of the game."
39 min: Djourou is booked for a cynical tug on Gardner, after needlessly allowing himself to be robbed by the Sunderland midfielder down the right wing. That'll be a free kick in a fairly dangerous position. "There are three types of hamstring strains, though all involve some kind of tear in the muscle," writes Dave Konopka, in response to Ian Copestake's medical query on 25 minutes. "Grade I involves minor tears of muscle fibers within the muscle. Grade II tears involve partial tear of the muscle as a whole. Grade III, which are rare, involve complete tearing and separation of the muscle. Only a grade III tear commonly requires surgical correction. Generally speaking, if the tear doesn't involve a large part of the muscle, then the ends are in close enough proximity to heal on their own." So there you have it, Ian. Dr Dave would also know if you'd like to purchase a litre of snake oil. It'll only cost you one $11 note.
40 min: GOAL! Sunderland 1-0 Arsenal. Larsson swings the free kick - a totally unnecessary one, remember - into the box. Vermaelen heads clear, but only to the left-hand edge of the area, where Richardson lurks. The Sunderland left-back steadies himself and unleashes a low shot that, via a small deflection off Squillaci, finds its way into the bottom-right corner.
43 min: Arsenal are rattled. Sessegnon twists and turns down the right, but is stopped in his tracks for a handball. He's in the way as Arsenal try to take a quick free kick, so Vermaelen comes in with a shoulder barge. That should probably have been a booking, but the referee can't be bothered to get his cards out, Howard Webb and all that.
44 min: A looping cross into the Arsenal area from the right. At the far post, Colback heads down for McClean, who from close range but a tight angle hoicks straight into the side netting. Arsenal are now not only rattled, they're reeling and rolling too.
HALF TIME: Sunderland 1-0 Arsenal. Arsenal were on top for the majority of that, but look at the scoreline. Ande Sunderland were well on top during the final exchanges of the half. As things stand, Arsenal are 45 minutes away from yet another season without a trophy, miracle comeback against Milan notwithstanding. No wonder Arsene Wenger has a face on as he stomps off for his half-time tea and tiffin. "Arsenal almost got lucky with Rasmey nearly going off injured," suggests Chris Sturrock. "Instead, he remains on the pitch giving the ball away with impunity. For a man who's second touch is a tackle, it's a little tragic he's so bad at tackling."
A reminder of better days for the Arsenal (who let's not forget could still win this game 6-1). They finish with a song, as well, going the extra mile for the paying punter.
And we're off again! No changes, but Arsenal fans will be hoping their team have a new attitude. Sunderland get the ball rolling again. During the break, ITV pundit Roy Keane had the proper heat on regarding Arsenal's rank first-half display, describing the side as "arrogant" and "sloppy". "This is the worst Arsenal team I've seen in all my time watching football," he said, giving it to you straight. His observations have been brilliantly entertaining this week, this blast of righteousness coming off the back of some equally trenchant talk after the Milan game on Wednesday. He's obviously decided to compete with Gary Neville for the title of Fullest and Frankest Pundit 2012. You couldn't put a cigarette paper between them at the moment.
48 min: Sagna is booked for tripping McClean down the inside-left channel. Another free kick in a dangerous position, a couple of yards to the left of the D, and a couple of yards outside the box. Larsson takes, looking to curl one into the top left, up and over the wall, but he overcooks it and the ball nestles on the top of the netting.
49 min: Sagna flings a dangerous cross into the Sunderland box from the right, but no pair of Arsenal eyebrows can get anywhere near it. Sunderland clear. The ball comes back at them, but Arteta blazes wildly into the stand from distance. Not running out of ideas already, surely? "The reason Van Persie didn't claim for a penalty was simply that it's not the Arsenal way to score from all of 12 yards out," writes Matt Dony. "It stops them looking for that one extra pass and trying to walk it in."
52 min: McClean whips a superb cross into the Arsenal area from the left. Arsenal hold their shape and deal with it well. Sunderland are getting into some good positions here. "The temperature in Sunderland at the moment is 4c," reports Lynne Hyland. "Not warm but not freezing. Why are half the 'The Arsenal' team wearing gloves? Have they had one of those fancy painted finger-nail jobs or has their mum told them not to get their hands dirty?" Keano's on this tip too, Lynne. "Just heard Roy ranting about how he hated seeing Arsenal players running out wearing gloves," adds John Davis. "I wonder what proportion of footballers have an actual reason for wearing them, such as suffering from Reynaud's syndrome, and what proportion are big soft jessies?"
54 min: Song and Djourou are now the Arsenal central defensive pairing, the substitute Squillaci being replaced by Walcott. Wenger also makes his last change of the day, Rosicky coming on for Ramsey.
55 min: Djourou flies in on Sessegnon, studs up, both feet in the air. He gets the ball, but he's not in control, and should really be sent off. Howard Webb, though, isn't it. He doesn't even get booked, which would also have seen him walking.
57 min: Gardner attempts to curl a cross into the area from the right, but the ball hits Vermaelen's arm from close range. You can't be giving penalties for that. And referee Webb doesn't. A few seconds later, he's got his card out, though, Vermaelen booked for a late slide on Larsson. "The measurements for Picasso's canvas are incredibly precise," notes Ian Copestake. "Width 1159 mm! It's almost as if made his own rather than go for a readymade 20 x 30 inch variety from WH Smiths." Ian would also like to thank Dave Konopka for his medical lesson. "I feel less ignorant now but am sadly only likely to use the information to taunt the injured with some choice words backed now by medical authority, such as 'stop yer moaning, it's only a Grade I'."
60 min: Arsenal are struggling to string more than a couple of passes together at the moment. It's most unlike them. They appear very rattled indeed. "35 minutes to go and no subs left," sighs Chris Caulfield. "Given Arsenal players have been dropping quicker than Arshavin's reputation, is that really a good idea?" In fairness, all three players hooked were suffering from various levels of knack (with the possible exception of Squillaci, who exited the stage shaking his head in a vigorous manner). Should another Arsenal player limp off, and the Gunners crash out, Wenger will at least have the injury card to play in mitigation.
63 min: Turner and Van Persie clash in the Sunderland area under a high ball from the left. Van Persie claims he's being held, and he's got a point, although he's never going to get anywhere near the ballooned cross, and anyway tussles like that rarely end in penalty awards. The ball breaks out of the area, whereupon Larsson upends some Arsenal player or other, and is booked. That'll be a free kick, 25 yards out, just to the left of goal. "I have to admit, I've never understood why the English are so against players wearing gloves," writes our resident quack, Dave Konopka. "Given how obsessive teams are about ensuring that players perform at the very highest level they can, isn't it somewhat reasonable to make sure that his hands aren't cold? Perhaps I'm the exception, but I feel like I tend to perform better at whatever task I'm doing (be it yard work, shoveling snow, or playing football) when my hands aren't cold. Of course, Keane might simply not understand what that feeling is like, given that he is a cold-hearted...ahem, is this a family blog?"
65 min: Van Persie's low free kick is decent, and deflected wide right of goal. The corner is plucked straight from the sky by Mignolet. "Reynaud's Syndrome! A short disquisition on the three types of hamstring tear! A bit of chit-chat about a cubist painting by Picasso! I say, chaps, do come and look at this spiffing MBM!" Ooyah! A dagger straight in the heart, the pain only slightly lessened by the fact it was wielded by a gentleman with the none-more-Guardian monicker Julian Le Saux.
68 min: Gardner takes a pop from distance, and drags a low shot wide left of the target. "You're getting sacked in the morning," sing the Sunderland faithful, serenading Arsene Wenger, and getting a wee bit ahead of themselves if last week's Premier League match between these two sides is anything to go by.
71 min: Rosicky battles down the inside-right channel, but eventually loses control and concedes a foul. On the touchline, Wenger shouts and screams and dances, though it's not clear who or what he's raging at. The dying of the light? Do not go gentle into that good night, Arsene.
74 min: Van Persie isn't having a good game, but you can never accuse him of hiding. He goes up in the middle, hoping to plant the nut on a cross from the left, but he's bustled out of it. On the touchline, Wenger goes thermonuclear. Speaking of heat... "Gigi Buffon made his debut for Italy, at the age of nineteen, in a World Cup playoff away to Russia," begins Rob Marriott. "In December. It was -30 degrees in Moscow, and he played in a short sleeved shirt and a rather slight pair of shorts (and kept a clean sheet). Given that no player can ever hope to compete with Buffon for handling-the-cold-as-a-right-hard-bastard, I can't really blame the Arsenal side for not even trying and looking for warmth instead."
75 min: Gardner is booked for a trip on Rosicky. The free kick - 30 yards out, to the left of goal - is plucked from the air by Mignolet. "All Arsenal's troubles today are clearly the result of that absurd kit," argues Damian A. Durrant. "It is reminiscent of the Thunderbirds uniform. Arsenal back four are not go!"
77 min: GOAL! Sunderland 2-0 Arsenal. Poor Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. He's bustled off the ball down the Arsenal right, looking like a very young man indeed. Sunderland sweep upfield, Sessegnon tearing down the left, beating Arteta and slipping Gardner in down the inside-right channel. Gardner's shot hits the right-hand post and rolls across the face of goal, where it hits the desperately retreating Oxlade-Chamberlain on the shins and bounces slowly and apologetically over the line.
79 min: Cattermole is booked for clipping Oxlade-Chamberlain's heels as the unhappy young chappie tries to undo the damage with a sortie down the right. Van Persie throws in a free kick, but the ball doesn't beat the first man. "I've never understood why the best striker in a team might want to take corners," writes David Wall. "Even if he's not very tall his movement in the box is likely to be far better than that of the big men coming up from the back so he's more likely to find space or beat the defending centre halves to the ball. Even Gianfranco Zola often stayed in the middle from corners and he was never going to win a header but was able to get to the ball first, and with enough control, to back-heel it in. It's true Van Persie isn't the best in the air but shouldn't he just stay on the training ground longer and bloody-well learn to get better. And as for Drogba sometimes taking corners at Chelsea..."
82 min: Sagna clips the heels of McClean down the left. If he wasn't already booked, he would have been, but, er, he's not. Well done, Howard! "The Brits associate glovedness with criminality and thus a lack of honesty," insists Ian Copestake. "No criminal worth his salt would be without a pair of gloves and footballers who do likewise are just exposing their own intention of getting away with murder by not trying hard enough."
83 min: From the resulting free kick, the ball's whipped to the far post, where it hits Turner on the chest. The big man can't control, falling forward as he is, but Fabianski was flapping there, and asking for trouble.
85 min: Van Persie, on the penalty spot, latches onto a low right-wing cross, but his attempt to flick home with his left foot flies miles over the bar. The home crowd seem very happy with this.
87 min: Arsenal are showing nothing up front. In fact, they can barely get hold of the ball now. "Surely the answer is fingerless gloves?" asks Phil Sawyer. "Suddenly you look less like a cold fearing softy and instead like you spend a lot of your time standing around a brazier warming your hands with a crumpled dog-end hanging out of the corner of your mouth. These footballers are missing a trick." Perhaps the Arsenal back four can play the role of the braziers.
88 min: Sessegnon zips down the right and clear. He looks for McClean in the middle with a low ball, but Sagna brilliantly gets across to intercept, when it looked for all the world like 3-0. It's Sessegnon's last act of the evening; he's replaced by Campbell.
89 min: Song and Arteta, standing five yards apart, attempt to pass to each other. They fail. To great cheers, the ball flies out of play. Arsenal are done. Wenger looks pale. "Gloves associated with criminality?" splutters Ryan Dunne. "Come on, Batman wears them, and he's the exact opposite of criminality! Plus, don't the Polis have white, masonic style dress gloves for special occasions or is that just an American thing? And is the British cliche for starting a fight not taking off a glove and slapping someone; a gentleman is surely less of a gentleman when the gloves are literally, as they say, off. Frankly I'm surprised that hard bastards like Keane never thought of wearing gloves in order to subtly hide some knuckledusters or the like."
90 min: There will be three added minutes of this, but don't worry, Sunderland fans, this game is already over. Arsenal, to a man, look thoroughly miserable. Here, does anybody remember Steve Bruce? Steven Hughes does: "I like to think that Bruce, when turning up for interviews with managerless clubs recently, has been trying to spin Sunderland's resurgence as a signifier of how close he was to turning it all around, with a straight face, or as straight as Bruce might be able to get that face."
FULL TIME: Sunderland 2-0 Arsenal. And that's that. A deserved victory for the home side, who really do look the real deal under Martin O'Neill. Arsenal also got their just desserts; they were dismal. Poor Oxlade-Chamberlain drops to the turf, close to tears, but the young man can't be blamed for this, despite his unfortunate role in the clincher. He's part of Arsenal's future - but you have to say this is beginning to look like fin de siècle for Arsene Wenger, who departs the scene wearing a wan smile, his team about to make it seven seasons without any silverware.
URGENT MESSAGE FOR ARTISTS WORLDWIDE: "Que sera sera, whatever will be will be, we're going to Wembley," sing the Sunderland fans. Damien Hirst and Antony Gormley batten down the hatches! Remember what happened to Po' Pablo the last time Sunderland did this!