Arsenal crashed to their first defeat in two months as the Gunners fired blanks at the Stadium of Light.
The Londoners started the brighter of the two teams, but their final ball was missing and the hosts stood up to defend everything the away side threw at them.
Once again it was Darren Bent who popped up with the decisive strike to seal the victory.
- Sunderland 1-0 Arsenal: As it happened
- Premier League results
There was a bit of luck about the strike which saw the Black Cats claim their second top-four scalp of the season on Wearside, and there wasn't a beach ball in sight.
Bent got lucky against Rafa's Reds when his shot hit the now infamous inflatable to wrong-foot Pepe Reina and score.
This time there was no beach ball, but once more the bounce favoured Bent as he put Sunderland on the road to victory on 71 minutes.
The striker got up to meet Andy Reid's corner, but headed well wide. The effort hit team-mate Fraizer Campbell and bounced back towards Bent, who slid in ahead of Arsenal keeper Manuel Almunia to poke the ball home.
After that the Wearsiders were forced on to the back foot as the Londoners tried to get back into the game.
And Arsenal will no doubt feel aggrieved that they weren't awarded a penalty in time added on.
Substitute Carlos Vela made the most of it, but there was definite contact with the Mexican and Sunderland sub Campbell, but referee Alan Wiley waved away the Arsenal appeals.
The Black Cats broke immediately and Armand Traore was fortunate to see a yellow card instead of a red for a vicious late challenge on Kieran Richardson.
Sunderland were worthy of their success, having taken the game to Arsene Wenger's men in the second half.
However, it was a different story early in the first half as the hosts struggled to get the ball from their opponents.
The silky fast-flowing football you expect from Arsenal was lacking a final cutting edge, although the visitors almost went ahead on six minutes, but Marton Fulop saved with his legs to deny Tomas Rosicky.
Cesc Fabregas also went close in the opening 15 minutes, while just after the half-hour mark Eduardo hooked the ball just wide of the target.
Sunderland's first-half opportunities were kept at a premium, although Steed Malbranque had two good chances to fire his side in front.
Wenger rang the changes after the Gunners went behind bringing on Vela and Theo Walcott to try to add to his attacking options.
But Sunderland held firm to survive the mini-onslaught and the penalty claim, notching up yet another impressive home win in the process.
At times the hosts struggled to wrestle possession from the Gunners, who while not at their flamboyant best, posed a real threat.
On several occasions their brand of quick-flowing football threatened to undo the Sunderland defence, and the Londoners could have gone in front as early as the sixth minute, but Rosicky's effort was well saved by Fulop, who started in place of the injured Craig Gordon.
On 13 minutes, Fabregas fired just over the bar from 20 yards out, and the visitors went even closer just after the half-hour mark.
Eduardo fired just wide of the target after an exquisite exchange of passes with Alex Song, who then tried to get on the end of the shot and guide the ball home, but couldn't connect.
While Arsenal had the better of the first-half chances, it wasn't as if the Wearsiders were being outclassed.
The Black Cats held firm at the back, and although their attacks were more sporadic than the visitors, they did go close through Malbranque on 18 minutes.
While there wasn't a huge abundance of goal-scoring chances for either side, you never felt like the clash would end goalless, and so it proved as Lady Luck shone on Bent, but not before the Sunderland frontman was denied by Almunia.
In the end though he did get his lucky break, and the vast majority of the 44,918 crowd will have gone home happy with a deserved victory.