Arsenal's attacking quality wins out as spirited Sunderland left with major injury concern
Sunderland came to show that they are on the way back, and that even on this stage they could play their way.
At times, they really did.
For a spell they looked like they might do the unthinkable, Nathan Broadhead’s superb first-time finish sending them into half time one goal behind and having dominated the closing stages.
In the end Arsenal’s attacking quality was too much.
Eddie Nketiah’s hat-trick of audacious first-time finishes left the Black Cats exiting the Carabao Cup with a 5-1 defeat and perhaps most troublingly, with concern over a Broadhead injury picked up just before the break.
Debutant Charlie Patino added a fifth for Arsenal in stoppage time, a cruel end as Sunderland’s spirited effort ebbed away in the face of Arsenal’s quality.
They had done a lot of good work in the game, but their defensive deficiencies were ultimately exposed.
In the build up to the game Johnson had conceded that his side would have to be prepared to spend long spells without possession, but that when they got it back they would look to do it their way.
The first half played out pretty much exactly like that.
Sunderland started brightly, a swift break seeing Leno make an early save from a tame Alex Pritchard effort. The Black Cats then felt they should have had a penalty when Ross Stewart spotted an opening and burst into the box, but in truth the contact with Mohamed Elneny was minimal and the referee was right to wave play on.
That was encouraging, but the speed of Arsenal’s counters underlined that it would be a long evening off the ball.
The visitors had a lucky escape when Embleton deflected a dangerous low cross from Tavares onto the bar; Lee Burge well beaten.
Ther attacking midfielder had been forced to into an excellent block from the dangerous Pepe shortly before that, with Balogun heading over from a good position as the loose ball was turned back into the Sunderland area.
The Black Cats had looked dangerous if just a little frantic on the ball, and their immense frustration will have been that when they conceded it was not through a superb piece of attacking play from an elite forward.
It was a simple corner into the heart of the box, Holding allowed a free header that Burge did well to palm clear of the line. Nketiah had the simplest of finishes, though, making no mistake from a matter of yards.
Sunderland wobbled, fortunate that Balogun missed a free heder from Pepe’s cross before firing straight at Burge when Doyle was caught in possession.
The second came just as they looked to have steadied, a dangerous moving coming to an end when Wright blazed over a volley from the edge of the area. Arsenal moved swiftly down the other end, and those weaknesses in the wide areas were exposed when Pepe and Cedric played an excellent 1-2. Pepe gathered the ball in the box and fired past Burge via a Doyle deflection.
It looked a long way back from there, but Sunderland’s response was outstanding.
The break they had been looking for all game came off, Neil snapping on a second ball and starting the move. After gathering the return pass from Pritchard he released Embleton first time, the attacking midfielder driving at the heart of the home defence. The through ball was perfect, and the first time dink over Leno from Broadhead sublime.
The Everton loanee had been superb throughout, always offering an out ball and fearless in his direct dribbling.
All of a sudden Arsenal were penned in, Winchester drawing an excellent save from Leno as he fired an effort towards the far corner on his left foot.
The game was alive, but the Black Cats were rocked moments from the break when Broadhead went down with what appeared to be a muscle injury.
He headed down the tunnel looking bereft, and the two-goal advantage was restored not long after the break when Tavares got to the bylienb too easily. Nketiah’s run across goal was not tracked, and his finish across Burge deft.
Sunderland kept playing, and almost scored when Embleton drove across from the right and curled a superb effort from 25 yards onto the far post.
There was little between the teams, but Arsenal’s ruthless attacking play was proving to be the difference.
Sunderland looked to be in little trouble when Odegaard slice the defence open with a superb through ball, Pepe gathering and dancing past Hume. The low cross was again into a dangerous area, and Nketiah produced his third first-time finish with an audacious backheel.
Box to box there had not been much in it, but the game was all but done with half an hour to play.
By now Sunderland were hanging in, Arsenal all too easily finding space and indebted to Burge for a superb save when Pepe had broken into the box again from the right.
Sunderland looked to have got through the worst of the pressure, but when Pepe again found space in the box, it was a simple finish for Patino.
Sunderland XI: Burge; Winchester, Wright, Flanagan, Doyle, Gooch (Evans, 77); Neil, Embleton (O’Brien, 77), Pritchard; Broadhead (Hume, 45), Stewart (Kimpioka, 90)
Subs: Cirkin, Xhemajli, Patterson, Younger, Dunne, Kimpioka
Arsenal XI: Leno; Cedric, White (Gabriel, 73), Holding, Tavares; Pepe, Elneny, Odegaard (Martinelli, 73), Smith Rowe (Patino, 80); Balogun (Xhaka, 55), Nketiah
Subs: Tierney, Saka, Lacazette, Ramsdale, Patino, Partey
Bookings: Gooch, 20 Balogun, 53 Hume, 60 Wright, 75 Doyle, 85.