Bent struck the winner with his first goal in four games
By Ian Hughes
Darren Bent scored the winner as Sunderland became the first team not to concede against Arsenal this season.
The Black Cats were stretched early on, particularly when Alex Song exchanged passes with Eduardo, who then scooped his shot wide of the target.
Steed Malbranque had two good chances for the hosts but his inaccurate shooting let Arsenal off the hook.
But Bent struck the only goal when he slotted in the rebound after his header came back to him off Frazier Campbell.
The goal itself was a touch fortunate but the hosts deserved their first win in five games after producing a solid performance to end Arsenal's 14-match unbeaten run.
For the Gunners the result will be damaging as title rivals Chelsea won, while Manchester United moved up to second place, three points above Arsenal, after beating Everton in Saturday's late kick-off.
Bruce delighted with Arsenal scalp
The visitors were clearly affected by the absence of injured forward Robin van Persie, who will hope his horse placenta treatment gets him back to fitness well inside the estimated six weeks.
In the place of the Dutchman, Eduardo led the Gunners' line and the Croatian created an early chance for Tomas Rosicky, who forced a fine save from Marton Fulop.
Eduardo then had a chance of his own after he exchanged passes with Song, but he could not quite get the ball out from under his feet and scooped the ball wide.
At that time Sunderland looked shaky at the back, central defender John Mensah particularly struggling to find his form.
His partnership with Paulo da Silva was a first for Sunderland, who were without the suspended Michael Turner, and it looked raw and vulnerable.
In contrast, Arsenal's ever-present central back pairing of Thomas Vermaelen and William Gallas - who was booed by the home fans for his part in France's 'handball' goal against Ireland in midweek - looked solid.
Until, that is, Arsenal were caught by a counter-attack and Malbranque almost opened the scoring with a volley that fizzed over.
The Frenchman was similarly placed moments later when he collected Andy Reid's long cross but he blazed his shot well off target.
Earlier, Cesc Fabregas had struck a shot just over the angle of the post and bar but the Spaniard was not at his imperious best.
After the break Reid did his best to up the tempo for the hosts - as he had threatened to do in the first 45 minutes - and he sent a free-kick skidding wide.
Shortly after, the midfielder smashed a shot high and wide after the ball bounced into his path via an Arsenal leg.
If that was a warning for Arsenal, it was one they did not heed as another Reid cross - this time from a corner - caught them cold.
Wenger downbeat after 'massive setback'
Bent rose highest and his header ricocheted back to him off Campbell, leaving the striker a fairly simple task to slot the ball in.
Neither side had regularly threatened before then, and Arsenal had already attempted to address the issue by bringing on Andrey Arshavin for Aaron Ramsey.
And they immediately responded to going a goal behind by replacing Eduardo and Rosicky with Theo Walcott and Carlos Vela.
Despite all their offensive options, Arsenal struggled to carve out any clear chances.
The closest was when Fabregas slid in but could not connect to a low cross and, later, when Arshavin narrowly failed to turn the ball in at the far post.
In the closing moments, substitute Vela fell in the box but there was little realistic hope of a penalty.
And for the first time in 12 league meetings between the sides, Sunderland took all three points.
Sunderland manager Steve Bruce: "It's nice to beat Arsenal because they are such a good team.
"We had a game plan to match them in the middle of the park and the lads ran a million miles in order to do that.
"We played very well and we are delighted. It was the manner of it - it wasn't lucky as I can't remember them carving us up. I think we deserved it."
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger: "It was very harsh to lose the game because Sunderland did not create a lot. But we did not create enough chances either and there was a lack of penetration.
"They were organised and defended very well and we lacked the sharpness to make a difference. In some positions we were not strong enough.
"It is a massive setback because you need consistency to win a title. And today we were not capable of doing that and it raises question marks."
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