Sunderland U21’s rounded off 2023 with a 2-1 defeat to Arsenal despite a valiant performance at Eppleton CW in the Premier League 2.
Nazariy Rusyn’s diving header put the Black Cats ahead going into the break, but a Khayon Edwards second half brace handed the Gunners all three points.
Timothée Pembélé, Jay Matete and Aji Alese all made competitive returns for Sunderland in their final fixture of the calendar year.
Lead Coach Graeme Murty named a strong team which featured several first-team players including Bradley Dack, Jenson Seelt and Adil Aouchiche.
Nathan Bishop was called into action inside the first 10 minutes to deny Edwards from close-range after the attacker manoeuvred space down the left, but the goalkeeper was quick off his line to smoother the shot.
Sunderland created their first promising attack of the match moments later, Aouchiche held off his man on the edge of the visitor’s box before cutting inside and bending his effort inches wide of Ovie Ejeheri’s top right-hand corner.
The Gunners thought they had taken the lead through Anario Cozier-Duberry, but Seelt remained aware and expertly timed his tackle to clear the wideman’s shot off his goal line.
Moments later, Charles Sagoe Jr deflected effort was heading into his bottom left-hand corner after passing through a crowd of bodies, but Nector Triantis’ last ditch block diverted the ball inches wide of his far post for a corner.
Rusyn was close to breaking the deadlock, but his fierce shot from inside Arsenal’s 18-yard box was driven straight at Ejeheri from point blank range.
The hosts finally took the lead on 37 minutes when Bradley Dack’s superb diagonal cross found an unmarked Rusyn at the back post to head past Ejeheri from two yards out.
In a high octane first 45, the Gunners forced Bishop into two smart saves as half time approached, firstly parrying Ethan Nwaneri shot away from danger before remaining alert to palm the rebound around his near post.
Arsenal returned from the break in confident style and equalised within five minutes, Edwards collecting a deflected through ball before steadying himself to fire past Bishop from an acute angle.
The visitors dictated possession in the opening 20 minutes of the second half, Bishop again called into action to save Edwards’ back post header.
Sunderland’s goalkeeper continued to be kept on his toes, this time Bishop stood firm to comfortably gather Edwards thrashed effort from 10-yards out.
Edwards was a constant threat all game and forced Bishop into another brilliant full stretch stop inside the final 10 minutes after latching onto a through ball.
The Gunners sealed victory on 83 minutes when an unmarked Edwards clinically side footed Nwaneri’s cross past Bishop from six-yard out.
The Lads return to action after the festive break when they travel to Meadow Lane in mid-January to face Nottingham Forest in the league.
SAFC XI: Bishop, Pembele (Alese 45’), Triantis, Seelt (Crompton 45’), Taylor, Dack (Rigg 67’) , Aouchiche (Matete 45’), Mayenda, Burstow, Rusyn, Hemir.
Subs not used: Chibueze.
Arsenal XI: Ejeheri, Nicholls, Sousa, Walters, Monolouis, Henry-Francis, Cozier-Duberry (Kabia 90+4), Lewis-Skelly (Heaven 90+2’), Edwards, Nwaneri (Oulad M’Hand 88’), Sagoe Jr.
Subs not used: Graczyk, Dubziak.