THE ticket touts loitering outside Arsenal tube station on Saturday were hawking seats in the Emirates for £150 apiece, prompting one passerby to make a comment befitting the North London surroundings: You what You must be having a larf mate.
After hearing that Anton Ferdinand was starting the game as a central midfielder, the 3,000 Sunderland fans inside the ground may have repeated that very remark.
Even without the injured Andrey Arshavin Arsenal possess one of the most accomplished midfields in the world. Not surprisingly, Ferdinand struggled to compete with the masterful Cesc Fabregas and after 30 minutes Steve Bruce pulled his makeshift midfielder from the line of fire.
But the paucity of his resources saw him push leftback George McCartney, run ragged by Theo Walcott in the opening exchanges, alongside Lorik Cana. The thinking seemed to be that if a square peg wouldn't fit into a round hole, then maybe a triangle would do better.
The move was a partial success, but two more significant factors rescued Bruce's side from suffering a mauling on a scale similar to last month's defeat at Stamford Bridge.
Firstly, Arsenal's tendency to over-indulge their penchant for pretty passing allowed Sunderland time to get men behind the ball and throw their bodies in front of the Gunners' efforts on goal.
They may be without a victory for 13 league games but Bruce's players are still giving their all for the manager.
Cana, Michael Turner and John Mensah applied themselves with vigour.
And those shots that breached the defensive line met goalkeeper Craig Gordon, who was enjoying his best display of the season.
Gordon's most impressive attribute is his agility and it proved crucial in denying efforts from Samir Nasri, Fabregas and Walcott to keep Sunderland in the game.
Too often this season Sunderland have relied on their strikers to gain a foothold in matches, but on Saturday it was the keeper's heroics that gave them a lifeline.
Had Darren Bent or Kenwyne Jones shown greater composure with the chances that came their way, Bruce's side could have left with a vital point, however improbable that seemed after a first half when Sunderland were shambolic.
The visitors' challenge was ended by a disputed injury time penalty. Nicklas Bendtner, played onside by Bent, had earlier opened the scoring.
The absence of Andy Reid, Jordan Henderson, David Meyler and Lee Cattermole left Bruce desperately short of options in the middle of the park and the latter's return from suspension will be a massive boost for Sunday's encounter against Fulham.
The experimental 4-1-4-1 formation that faced Arsene Wenger's side included Bent operating on the left flank and a partially-fit Kieran Richardson supporting the attack.
Wenger was also missing some of his most influential players but, crucially, his team play to a tried and tested formula. Bruce's bold tactical approach left too many players floundering in unfamiliar roles.
But given the resources at his disposal, would a different combination have performed better
Rather than pour over the merits of Bruce's plan, Gordon called on the squad to support the manager. With Sunderland only three points above the relegation zone, he believes that this is not the time to voice dissent.
It wasn't the worst performance in the world, said the Scotland number one. We take heart from this. We've come to Arsenal and created as many chances as almost any team would. The feeling in the dressing room is upbeat.
You're never happy after a defeat but we should take credit for the manner in which we stuck in and kept creating chances.
Our game plan was to frustrate them for 90 minutes and try and sneak whatever chances came our way. We did what the manager asked as well as we could, it's just unfortunate that we leave without any points.
Gordon had to cope with another defensive change after Mensah replaced Matt Kilgallon in the starting line-up, and admitted: It can be hard having a constantly changing back four but we've done that all season. The manager had just about every defensive option available to him today and had some good players to pick from.
Inevitably, some people are going to be left disappointed.
That's unfortunate but we accept that and it's important we keep faith with the manager's judgement. His plan almost paid off.
Am I back to my best form
I'm getting there. I've had four or five games back and that's normally about how long you would need to get back to full sharpness.
There's nowhere better to test my reflexes than The Emirates. You expect to be busy at places like this and Arsenal didn't let me down.
It would've really meant something if we'd got a point.
Instead of having that to build on we must build on the performance and the spirit we showed. If we keep playing like that we have a chance.
Match facts Goals:
1-0: Bendtner (27, tapped home Emmanuel Eboue's pass across the six-yard box); 2-0: Fabregas (90, converted penalty after being fouled by Fraizer Cambell on edge of the box).
Bookings: Cana (39, foul), Turner (45, deliberate handball); Fabregas (50, foul); Richardson (59, foul), Mensah (71, foul), Ferdinand (90, dissent)
Referee: Steve Bennett (Farnborough). Harsh penalty award, favoured the home side all afternoon 5
Almunia 7; Eboue 7 (Denilson 90), Vermaelen 7, Silvestre 7, Clichy 7; Walcott 8 (Sagna 78), FABREGAS 8, Song 7, Ramsey 6, Nasri 6 (Rosicky 73) ; Bendtner 7. Subs (not used): Fabianski (gk), Traore, Vela, Campbell
8 Gordon: An exemplary display that helped keep Sunderland in the game
5 Hutton: Grew in confidence as the game progressed but given a tough afternoon
6 Turner: Did well to frustrate Arsenal's surges into the penalty box
6 Mensah: Solid but his distribution out of defence was wayward
4 McCartney: Didn't impress as a left-back or a makeshift defensive midfielder
5 Campbell: Worked hard with scant reward, unfortunate to concede the penalty
6 Cana: Can't fault his commitment but lucky to avoid a sending-off
4 Ferdinand: The experiment to play him in midfield backfired badly
5 Richardson: Played his favoured attacking role but lack of match fitness told
5 Jones: Only one chance but he should have put it away
5 Bent: Struggled to make an impact when stuck on the left wing
Zenden (for Richardson 76mins)
Benjani (for Jones 79)
Bardsley (for McCartney 85mins)
(not used): Carson (gk), Da Silva, Malbranque, Kilgallon
MAN OF THE MATCH
CRAIG Gordon His return to form could prove crucial in Sunderland's survival battle.