As the second half reached the midway point at the Emirates, Sunderland were firmly in contention against Premier League leaders Arsenal.
But when Sam Allardyce understandably decided to hand his two chief lieutenants, John O'Shea and Lee Cattermole, a breather ahead of Wednesday's huge relegation clash against fellow strugglers Swansea, it all began to fall apart for Sunderland as their 2016 FA Cup run ended at the first hurdle.
Two goals in the final 20 minutes from Aaron Ramsey and Olivier Giroud secured a 3-1 win for Arsenal over Sunderland for the second time in a month after Joel Campbell had cancelled out Jeremain Lens' opener for the visitors.
Allardyce's side were competitive for large portions of the encounter, particularly the impressive Lens in the number 10 role, albeit they gifted Arsenal a soft equaliser.
But as the game entered its latter stages and it became increasingly open with neither side desiring a replay, Sunderland were unable to contain the reigning two-time champions as their defensive resilience fell apart.
Sunderland had enjoyed the first sight of goal in the third minute when Duncan Watmore threaded the ball through to Lens - playing as the most attack-minded of the central midfield trio - who fired wide from 20 yards.
Debutant Jordan Pickford had his first save to make when Giroud picked out the run of the over-lapping Kieran Gibbs down the right-hand side of the Sunderland area.
Gibbs hit a powerful left-footed shot towards the near post, but Pickford turned it over the bar with his midriff.
And it was Sunderland who went ahead in the 17th minute when Laurent Koscielny was careless robbed by Lens on the edge of the Arsenal area.
From the right of goal, just inside the area, Lens curled a first time right-footed shot around Petr Cech at his near post and into the net.
But Sunderland's bright start was undone eight minutes later when Campbell - who netted against the Black Cats in the Premier League last month - drew the Gunners level.
Theo Walcott's low left wing cross was allowed to drift across the Sunderland area far too easily, before the unmarked Campbell tucked it in at the far post.
Moments later, Walcott tested Pickford with an awkward long-ranger which the keeper turned away low to his left, before Patrick van Aanholt got to the rebound to clear ahead of Campbell.
Sunderland had an escape 10 minutes into the second half when Campbell got in behind the Black Cats defence to the right of Pickford's goal.
Campbell's pull-back into the six-yard box evaded the dive of Pickford, but DeAndre Yedlin was there to boot clear in the goalmouth.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was denied by the woodwork moments later when he twisted and turned 20 yards out, before bending a right-footed shot which ricocheted off the outside of the far post.
Sunderland then hit the woodwork themselves just before the hour mark when Yedlin did excellently to beat Walcott and get to the right-hand by-line.
Yedlin's cross was headed against the bar by Steven Fletcher, before Watmore volleyed the rebound over the top.
At the other end, Pickford blocked Campbell's effort from 10 yards out after the Arsenal man's neat one-two with Oxlade-Chamberlain.
But the Gunners took the lead in the 72nd minute when Hector Bellerin left Danny Graham for dead as he played a one-two down the right.
Bellerin got to the right-hand by-line and pulled it back for substitute Ramsey, who tucked the ball beyond the helpless Pickford.
Four minutes later, Arsenal sealed their passage into the next round when Bellerin's low ball into the area was allowed to ghost through to Olivier Giroud at the far post, who calmly tucked it in.
Sunderland had an opportunity to give themselves hope, but Graham saw his shot saved by the body of Cech after being picked out down the right-hand channel by Lens.
Arsenal: Cech, Bellerin, Gabriel, Koscielny, Gibbs, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Chambers (Arteta 67), Iwobi (Ramsey 67), Walcott, Campbell (Reine-Adelaide 81), Giroud. Subs not used: Macey, Debuchy, Monreal, Willock.
Sunderland: Pickford, Yedlin, Coates, O'Shea (Jones 65), van Aanholt, Cattermole (M'Vila 57), Lens, Toivonen, Watmore, Graham, Fletcher (Mavrias 76). Subs not used: Mannone, Borini, Defoe, Beadling.