Arsène Wenger watched his new left-back, Nacho Monreal, be terrorised by Stéphane Sessègnon, saw Carl Jenkinson sent off and grimaced as Jack Wilshere hobbled off, but still ended the afternoon smiling.
On a day when Arsenal initially threatened to win by a cricket score but ended up clinging on for victory, Santi Cazorla's decisive first-half goal proved just sufficient to keep Wenger's team very much in contention for a top-four finish.
"It was tight in the end and we had to show another side to our game, especially in the last 20 minutes," said Arsenal's manager, who confirmed that Wilshere's injury is not serious. "We lacked efficiency, we didn't finish what we created."
If this was an off day in the visitors' attacking department, Lee Cattermole proved his reliable self. It was no surprise to see the midfielder, newly restored to Martin O'Neill's side following his most recent knee trouble, receive a third-minute booking for a late, wild challenge on Aaron Ramsey. Forget the suspensions, if Cattermole does not learn to intercept rather than keep on diving in so brainlessly he will be in danger of wrecking his knees permanently.
A calf strain in the warm-up had meant Laurent Koscielny was unable to start, leaving Bacary Sagna to shine at centre-half after being relocated from right-back, where Jenkinson filled in. Unfazed, Arsenal began brilliantly, Theo Walcott catching the home defence cold before unleashing a shot that provoked the first of several fine saves from Simon Mignolet.
Sunderland had their moments though, most notably when Sessègnon ran at Monreal. Evidently attempting to highlight the former Málaga left-back's vulnerabilities, O'Neill had rejigged his formation, moving Sessègnon from the hole to wide on the right. This involved sacrificing Sebastian Larsson's dead ball skills but the manner in which Sessègnon's advances had Wenger furrowing his brow must have felt like vindication.
O'Neill's midfield quintet had clearly been instructed to deny Wilshere the space Brazil allowed the England midfielder at Wembley last week and Wenger waved his arms in despair as the referee turned a blind eye to a series of fairly robust challenges, most notably from Titus Bramble, on his No10.
"I was a bit frustrated that, many times, Jack did not get the free-kicks he deserved," said Wenger. "We don't want any special protection, not a bodyguard just the referee to be fair."
Wilshere though is not exactly a shrinking violet and, undaunted, he continued to construct passing triangles with Walcott and Cazorla. The latter's fast feet and even quicker brain posed Sunderland persistent problems. Indeed with the Spaniard dictating so much play it seemed fitting that it was Cazorla's low shot that evaded Mignolet after Wilshere surged beyond Jack Colback and initiated a slick interchange that concluded with Walcott cleverly picking out Cazorla. "Santi was outstanding," enthused Wenger. "He's a top, top player."
By half-time Sunderland had Mignolet to thank for two superior saves from Ramsey and were equally grateful to their Tottenham loanee Danny Rose for a block that denied Walcott.
Sensibly, Sunderland's manager replaced Cattermole – who could learn a lot from studying Mikel Arteta's game – with Larsson at the interval. Contentiously his side failed to win a penalty after Monreal appeared to bring Sessègnon down in the area but it was not long before another worry preoccupied Wenger. This time it was Wilshere who remained in a crumpled heap following a collision with Alfred N'Diaye.
Eventually Wilshere hobbled, rather gingerly, off to be replaced by Abou Diaby and even Sunderland supporters looked relieved when he indicated the problem was not too serious by taking a seat in the dug-out rather than going down the tunnel for immediate treatment. "Jack got a big kick on the thigh, he can't walk properly but hopefully it will only be a matter of days before he's back," Wenger said.
Home optimism increased further when Jenkinson was sent off for a second bookable offence. Already given a yellow card for a first-half foul on Colback, the young defender departed, head bowed, after a reckless tackle on Sessègnon.
With Rose a dynamic attacking force at left-back Sunderland perked up. Granted, Walcott hit a post but Steven Fletcher sliced a chance wide before Wojciech Szczesny performed wonders to tip his goalbound header over the bar and Bramble missed horribly from the ensuing corner.
"Arsenal were top quality," O'Neill said. "But I don't know how we didn't score."