Arsenal 3 Sunderland 2
Two goals from Robin Van Persie either side of a Philippe Senderos strike were enough to move Arsenal back to the summit, two points ahead of Manchester United.
The Gunners got off to a flying start when van Persie's scorching 20-yard free-kick winged its way past Craig Gordon after just six minutes.
Cesc Fabregas was bundled over for a free-kick just outside the penalty area and van Persie's venomous striker which rattled the crossbar made the visitors pay for a Grant Leadbitter's stupid challenge.
Emmanuel Adebayor went close just before and after the goal, first with a shot that was fired just over the bar and then a powerful header that was palmed away by Gordon for a corner.
Arsenal were 2-0 up on 13 minutes when Adebayor crossed for Philippe Senderos to shoot into the bottom right corner of the net from 12 yards out.
Abou Diaby had what looked like a good goal disallowed for offside on 18 minutes and things looked to be opening up for the Gunners, but then Ross Wallace pulled one back for the visitors.
Manuel Almunia's block from a Kenwyne Jones shot fell to the Sunderland midfielder whose left-foot shot from inside the area found the bottom right corner of the net.
Gordon kept van Persie out on 32 minutes with a great save from a swerving 25-yard drive, but Senderos should have made more of the resultant corner, but headed into the sidenetting from close range.
Arsenal were counting the cost of that miss just three minutes after the re-start when Jones rose highest to meet a cross from the left from Liam Miller to send a header past the diving Almunia to level the scores.
Kolo Toure went close on 58 minutes with a 30-yard drive that had Gordon beaten but cannoned back off the crossbar.
Van Persie went close on 76 minutes with a shot that fizzed just wide of the left post following some good work by Alex Hleb.
The Dutchman netted brilliantly three minutes later with super strike. Theo Walcott used his exhilarating pace to go past the Sunderland left-back before pulling back a ball for van Persie, who used his left to control the pass and then shoot beyond Gordon in one swift movement.
Paul McShane was sent off for a dangerous challenge on Hleb a minute before the end of regular time and the Gunners should have had another three before the full-time whistle blew.
Fabregas sliced a left-foot shot well wide with only the keeper to beat. Adebayor was through seconds later, but placed his shot inches wide of the right post with the keeper well beaten and then Walcott's shot rebounded off the foot of the left upright.
The three points went to Arsenal, but Roy Keane's players pushed the league leaders all the way.