Mensah, who has been out of action since September 27, slots in at the heart of the defence, despite the availability of Anton Ferdinand and Nyron Nosworthy.
It is a bit of a snub to Ferdinand in particular, who would have expected to partner Paulo Da Silva in the absence of Michael Turner.
Manager Steve Bruce has resisted the temptation to play with two strikers, with Darren Bent the lone ranger up front.
Arsenal, despite a team of injuries, still include a strong team, with Eduardo, Cesc Fabregas, Sami Nasri and Tomas Rosicky all threats to the Black Cats rearguard.
SUNDERLAND (4-5-1): Fulop; Bardsley, Mensah, Da Silva, McCartney; Malbranque, Henderson, Cana, Richardson, Reid; Bent. Subs: Carson, Healy, Murphy, Ferdinand, Nosworthy, Campbell, Zenden.
ARSENAL (4-3-2-1): Almunia; Sagna, Vermaelen, Gallas, Traore; Ramsey, Song, Fabregas; Rosicky, Nasri; Eduardo. Subs: Vela, Walcott, Denilson, Silvestre, Arshavin, Mannone, Eboue.