ROBIN VAN PERSIE fired a stunning free-kick to spare Arsenal's blushes at home to Sunderland.
The Black Cats had looked set for a point at the Emirates thanks to an incredible set-piece of their own, with Seb Larsson curling home on 31 minutes.
That effort had cancelled out Van Persie's opener after just 29 seconds — the fastest top flight goal of the season to date.
But it required something even more special from the Dutchman to lift the gloom for the Gunners, his left-footed strike with eight minutes remaining taking his side up to 13th in the table. It was a timely performance from Van Persie, who had played down suggestions he wanted to leave Arsenal in his programme notes.
And he underlined that sentiment as Arsene Wenger's men flew out of the blocks and took the lead immediately.
Some fans had still not taken their seats by the time Gervinho got on the end of Tomas Rosicky's lobbed pass and squared to Van Persie, who took one touch before drilling home from 18 yards.
The strike stunned the Black Cats and they remained on the back foot for the rest of the opening 10 minutes.
Gervinho's trickery then gave him a yard inside the box, but his square ball was hooked clear by Wes Brown just before Kieran Gibbs could tap home.
Moments later, Van Persie was denied an early contender for goal of the season by the woodwork.
With 13 minutes on the clock, the Dutchman spun his marker on the edge of the box and clipped a delightful chip that sailed over Simon Mignolet but bounced off the post and out.
Van Persie was full of confidence and continued to look dangerous, flashing a powerful 20-yard drive just wide.
Sunderland gradually sensed they could still get something from the game and shocked the home faithful with a stunning equaliser from former Gunner Larsson.
Mikel Arteta's handball gave the Black Cats a free-kick 20 yards out and Larsson whipped a delightful curling shot over the wall and past a sprawling Wojciech Szczesny to make it 1-1.
Szczesny then had to be at his best to deny Sunderland the lead moments later when he blocked Lee Cattermole's header from six yards.
Arsenal's creaky defence was giving Wenger plenty of food for thought and the away side almost grabbed the lead in first-half injury-time when Jack Colback's volley flew just over the bar from 10 yards.
Arsenal started the second half strongly and David Vaughan earned the first booking of the game with a cynical two-footed sliding tackle on Rosicky.
He was soon followed into the book by Larsson, who tugged Van Persie's shirt as the Dutch striker threatened down the right.
Tensions mounted between both sides and the game was in danger of boiling over.
Alex Song was booked for a foul on Stephane Sessegnon and then John O'Shea upended Rosicky on the edge of the box, handing Arsenal a dangerous free-kick which Arteta struck over.
Wes Brown was lucky to escape with a booking after clattering into Theo Walcott in a similar position minutes later.
The England winger picked himself up to take the free-kick but the home fans groaned collectively as, again, the set-piece flew well over.
Howard Webb produced his fifth yellow card of the game after Laurent Koscielny body-checked Sessegnon before Mignolet kept Van Persie's near-post effort out with his feet.
Larsson came off to warm applause from the away fans and was replaced by Dong-Won Ji, while Andrey Arshavin and Andre Santos came on for Arsenal in place of Gervinho and Kieran Gibbs.
Wenger made his final substitution, with Rosicky coming off for Yossi Benayoun as Sunderland introduced Connor Wickham in place of Sessegnon.
Brown's clumsy challenge on Van Persie gave Arsenal another free-kick on the edge of the box with eight minutes left.
And the Holland international succeeded where his team-mates had failed before him, firing home a brilliant set-piece and then removing his shirt in a jubilant celebration.
There was a late scare when Ji had the ball in the back of the net — only to be correctly ruled offside.
Arsenal: Szczesny, Jenkinson, Koscielny, Mertesacker, Gibbs (Andre Santos 50), Song, Arteta, Rosicky (Benayoun 76),Walcott, Van Persie, Gervinho (Arshavin 67). Subs not used: Fabianski, Park, Djourou, Frimpong. Booked: Song, Koscielny,van Persie.
Goals: Van Persie 1, 82.
Sunderland: Mignolet, O'Shea, Turner, Brown, Richardson, Elmohamady, Vaughan, Colback, Cattermole (Gardner 87),Larsson (Ji 67), Sessegnon (Wickham 79). Subs not used: Westwood, Meyler, McClean, Laing. Booked: Vaughan,Larsson,Brown.
Goals: Larsson 31.
Ref: Howard Webb (S Yorkshire).
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