Arsenal dominated Sunderland from start to finish to record a comfortable 4-1 home victory and move back to within a point of table toppers Chelsea.
Olivier Giroud, back in favour and back in form, found the target twice in the first half while Tomas Rosicky and Laurent Koscielny also chipped in.
Emmanuel Giaccherini pulled one back with ten minutes to play but Gus Poyet’s side clearly had their upcoming Capital One Cup final against Manchester City on their minds.
Arsene Wenger will be delighted with his side’s response to their mid-week dismantling by Bayern Munich. He dropped Mesut Ozil from the match-day and recalled Giroud - the France international an absentee for the past two games.
And it was Giroud, reinstated to the Arsenal starting lineup after his brief “rest”, who opened the scoring after just five minutes.
The Gunners had started brightly, Bacary Sagna escaping down the right channel inside the first two minutes and the Black Cats didn’t heed the warning.
The bright Jack Wilshere instigated a neat move involving Lukas Podolski and Rosicky before the ball broke into the path of Giroud eight yards out.
The Frenchman showed no signs of rust and swept confidently home to hand Wenger’s men the perfect start.
And it got even better for Wenger and Giroud, who doubled the Gunners’ lead on the half-hour mark. A mistake from Sunderland centre-back Santiago Vergini was swiftly punished by Giroud, who capitalised on the woefully short back-pass to slot home first-time past former-Arsenal keeper Vito Mannone.
The Gunners were completely in control and added a third three minutes before half-time. Rosicky, who starred alongside Wilshere in a fluid midfield set-up, capped a brilliant move with a chipped finish over the onrushing Mannone.
It was a strike that brought back memories of that goal of the season contender against Norwich earlier this campaign. Although not quite as eye-catching, it included at least four first-time passes that sliced effortlessly through a sluggish Sunderland rearguard. Rosicky’s finish was the icing on the cake.
After the nightmare second 45 minutes against Bayern Munich on Wednesday, it was about as perfect a response as Wenger could have hoped for.
His only worry may be over injuries. Already without Kieran Gibbs, Wenger was forced to withdraw Nacho Monreal at half-time, sending Sagna to left-back and Carl Jenkinson to right.
With an eye firmly fixed on the League Cup final next weekend, Gus Poyet made a couple of changes himself, hooking Adam Johnson and Jozy Altidore. Despite the obvious alteration in priority, it was actually Sunderland that started the sharper.
Fabio Borini forced Szczesny into a smart save, and they enjoyed ten minutes or so of possession in the Arsenal half. That was almost as good as it got though.
Laurent Koscielny ended any faint hopes of a turnaround after 57 minutes, heading home from a corner following another comedy moment from Vergini.
The Argentinian sliced his clearance out horribly for a needless corner - it narrowly avoided Mannone’s far post and an embarrassing own goal. The defending that allowed Koscielny to score was equally as bad.
That proved to be one of Koscielny’s last acts, the Frenchman replaced by Mathieu Flamini, who slotted in at left-back, sending Sagna into the middle to partner Per Mertesacker.
It was a makeshift Arsenal backline that looked exactly that.
Sunderland managed to avoid further episodes of defensive embarrassment and continued to pose a sporadic threat to the Arsenal goal as the game plodded towards a conclusion. Ki’s poked effort was tipped wide by Szczesny while Seb Larsson flashed a free-kick just wide.
And with ten minutes to play they broke down Arsenal’s new-look defence. Substitute Emmanuel Giaccherini fired home from 25 yards after the ball broke to him on the edge of the box.
Poyet will understandably look towards next weekend’s cup final, a chance for silverware for the first time in 22 years. His side were thoroughly outplayed by a fluent Arsenal team that showed no ill effects from the mid-week defeat to Bayern Munich.
The positives for Wenger were numerous. Wilshere looked back somewhere near his best, Giroud was outstanding in the first-half and they’re back to within a point of Chelsea at the top of the table.
It may be unfair to take too much from this game as far as Sunderland are concerned, but it is clear Poyet has a real fight on his hands to ensure Premier League survival.
Man of the match - Olivier Giroud
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