Defeat sees the Black Cats equal Manchester City’s record low points haul of just two after 10 Premier League games.
Arsenal took the lead after just 19 minutes through Alexis Sanchez's close-range header and could have been out of sight in the first half, with the Gunners missing several openings.
But Sunderland dug in and eventually equalised, Jermain Defoe from the penalty spot after Duncan Watmore had been brought down by Petr Cech.
Man in life-threatening condition after 'serious collision' involving car and pedestrian in South Shields
Campaigners rally against Local Plan after farmland in Cleadon earmarked for 156 homes
Appeal to find owner of lost Labrador after dog found near Jarrow Cemetery
Pair set up cannabis farm in town centre flat
South Shields man jailed for terrifying physical and sexual assault on woman in her own home
Then, within the space of six minutes Sunderland completely collapsed, Arsenal running riot and taking advantage of some shocking defending by David Moyes's side.
Sub Olivier Giroud bagged a brace before Sanchez added his second of the match to seal victory. Boos ringing out around the stadium.
The latest in a long line of defeats leaves Sunderland bottom, with just two points to their name after more than a quarter of the season.
Moyes had made three changes, with John O'Shea, Steven Pienaar and Jermain Defoe all returning to the side following the EFL Cup exit to Southampton.
Billy Jones kept his place at right-back ahead of Javier Manquillo.
There was a return to the squad for Adnan Januzaj after a month out with ankle ligament damage, with the Manchester United midfielder on the bench.
It was a lively start to proceedings, with Arsenal carving out two good openings in the first 14 minutes.
First Alexis Sanchez played Mesut Ozil in with a superb pass that split the Sunderland defence, the German's effort was weak with his left-foot and Jordan Pickford made a comfortable save.
Moments later, Sanchez was again involved.
He played Francis Coquelin in, the Arsenal midfielder beating the offside trap before Lamine Kone got back with a superb challenge.
The warning signs were there for the hosts.
And Arsenal opened the scoring 19 minutes in. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain with time and space to pick out a cross from the right wing.
Sanchez - Arsenal's early dangerman - somehow managed to beat Kone in the air from six-yards out, giving Pickford no chance.
It was rank bad defending from Sunderland, with ball-watching Kone unaware of where Sanchez was.
Sunderland did find the back of the net in the 24th minute, Jermain Defoe dinking the ball past Petr Cech but the offside flag had already correctly been raised.
Both Defoe and Wahbi Khazri, who played him in, were standing in an offside position from Jones' original pass.
Patrick van Aanholt was then dispossessed of possession far too easily deep inside the Arsenal half, he was unaware of Sanchez who nicked the ball of him.
Arsenal broke at speed, Alex Iwobi flashing a fierce effort inches over Pickford's bar from just outside the area.
Referee Martin Atkinson booked both Khazri and Didier Ndong in the space of two minutes.
Sunderland were fortunate to just be the one goal down, with Khazri gifting possession near his own corner flag under pressure from two Arsenal forwards.
Oxlade-Chamberlain broke into the box but Pickford managed to get his body behind the low drive.
It was all Arsenal, Ozil missed a golden opportunity to make it 2-0. Oxlade-Chamberlain lofted the ball over the top of the Sunderland defence.
Ozil was in on goal but got his attempted lob all wrong, Pickford - who had rushed off his line - clawing the ball out of harm's way.
Sunderland were dealt another injury blow three minutes before half-time, captain John O'Shea on his 350th Premier League start forced off with a muscle injury to his right leg.
Moyes' side fortunate to go in at the break just one goal down, with Khazri, in particular, losing possession too easily and Watmore, Pienaar and Ndong struggling to have an impact.
Half-time: Sunderland 0 Arsenal 1
Sunderland showed more intent at the start of the second half, Ndong with a pin-point cross across the face of goal from the right flank, just in front of Defoe, though.
Djilobodji, who replaced the injured O'Shea before half-time, booked for a late foul on Sanchez.
Watmore, played in by Defoe, had a sight on goal in the 58th minute but instead of shooting decided to attempt to play in Pienaar.
His pass was poorly executed though and the opening wasted, with Sunderland committing more men forward after the break.
Just before the hour mark, Oxlade-Chamberlain was in on goal but screwed his effort wide from the right-hand side of the penalty area.
The game threatened to turn on its head in the space of 60 seconds when the clock hit the 64 minute mark.
Sanchez had a strong penalty appeal turned down, with Kone appearing to trip the Arsenal forward inside the area. His theatrics earlier possibly going against him.
Then, almost immediately up the other end, Ndong played a delightful ball over the top, Watmore pinched it off Shkodran Mustafi and burst into the box.
He rounded Cech, who bundled into him and Atkinson pointed to the spot, Defoe sending the keeper the wrong way to level.
Cech was booked for the foul, with Laurent Koscielny covering.
Sunderland were level for all of six minutes. Kieran Gibbs with a cross from the left that was hooked home by Olivier Giroud, who had been on the pitch a matter of minutes.
He made it 3-1 moments later, from an Ozil corner he got in ahead of Djilobodji to flick the ball over Pickford in the 76th minute.
Sunderland were all over the shop, with rampant Arsenal making it 4-1 in the 77th minute.
Gibbs' shot hit the post, sub Aaron Ramsey stabbed ball towards goal, and Sanchez turned unopposed in the six-yard box to stroke the ball past Pickford.
Moyes was slumped in his seat as a significant chunk of the home support headed for the exit door. They had seen enough.
Sunderland remain in deep trouble.
Full-time: Sunderland 1 Arsenal 4
Sunderland (4-1-4-1): Pickford; Jones, Van Aanholt, Kone, O'Shea (C) (Djilobodji, 41); Rodwell, Pienaar (Januzaj, 69), Ndong; Khazri, Watmore (Gooch, 84) Defoe.
Subs Not Used: Mika, Love, Manquillo, Anichebe.
Booked: Khazri (30), Ndong (32), Pienaar (41), Djilobodji (48),
Goals: Defoe (65, pen)
Arsenal (4-2-3-1): Cech, Bellerin, Mustafi, Koscielny (C), Gibbs, Elneny, Coquelin (Maitland-Niles, 89), Oxlade-Chamberlain (Ramsey, 79), Ozil, Iwobi (Giroud, 68), Sanchez.
Subs Not Used: Ospina, Gabriel, Holding, Jenkinson
Booked: Cech (64), Gibbs (80)
Goals: Sanchez (19, 77), Giroud (71, 76),
Referee: Martin Atkinson (Bradford)