Two goals inside a minute at the end of the first half proved to be the team's undoing at the Emirates Stadium.
Looking good to get to half-time certainly not in deficit, the two quick blows drained confidence from the ranks and, if anything, the defeat could have been by a wider margin than the one that was increased on the hour to make it three and an afternoon to forget.
The first 13 minutes were particularly uneventful from a goalkeeping point of view until a dangerous counter-attack led by Gael Clichy resulted in Andrey Arshavin giving Heurelho Gomes his first work of the afternoon, which was carried out effectively.
The home side was probing with more intent against a midfield anchored by Tom Huddlestone and Wilson Palacios, with Jermaine Jenas, David Bentley and Robbie Keane in more advanced positions and Peter Crouch ahead of them.
Keane had half a chance in front of goal following a Crouch knockdown from a crossfield ball from Bentley, but another swift counter signalled danger. Ledley King did superbly to block Arshavin to the right of the area, but the ball landed in front of Cesc Fabregas, who shot first time and it took a magnificent save on the stretch from Gomes to deny the Spaniard an opener.
Robin van Persie spurned a good chance just after the half-hour mark after Benoit Assou-Ekotto failed to complete a clearance from a vital King interception - thankfully the Dutchman shot into the side netting.
A surge down the right by Vedran Corluka was a first real exploiting of space, but Arsenal were quickly back on the attack and it took a lunging block from Corluka to ensure an Arshavin effort flew skywards rather than goalwards.
Jenas then threaded a clever pass through to Keane inside the area, but the striker missed his touch and the opportunity was gone.
Just before half-time there was a shock double hit from the home side.
First, a Bacary Sagna cross from the left was stabbed in at the near post by van Persie then, pretty much from kick-off, Fabregas stormed forward and beat three players before drilling past Gomes.
A previously sedate stadium came to life and the cause became getting through to half-time without further damage.
There was a formation change after the break, with Jenas switching to the right and Bentley left, making it a 4-4-2 with Keane up top alongside Crouch.
It was Arsenal who came close to opening the gate for a third when Clichy slotted in van Persie, who drilled across goal and it took Sebastien Bassong to block Abou Diaby's attempt at the far post.
Gomes then saved well when Eduardo sped through, the goalkeeper advancing, blocking, the grabbing the loose ball.
Ten minutes into the half and it was time for change, with Gareth Bale replacing Huddlestone in an effort to inject some energy and balance down the left hand side - Bentley reverted to the right and Jenas inside.
Bentley forced Manuel Almunia into an athletic save shortly afterwards from a free-kick on the edge of the area, but a third was added just before the hour mark in strange circumstances.
Assou-Ekotto fouled Eduardo and the assistant waved his flag and play stopped with the players unaware that referee Mr Clattenburg had waved play on. Sagna, who also stopped, then carried on into space and dispatched a low centre just out of reach of the diving Gomes and retreating King, while van Persie was waiting to knock into an empty net.
With 25 minutes left on the clock, Roman Pavlyuchenko was introduced in place of Keane, but it was Eduardo who next came close to scoring when played clean through by Fabregas. Gomes closed him down and the Croatian international rolled just wide.
Alan Hutton came on for Corluka for the final five minutes, then to make matters worse, Bassong pulled up with what appeared to be a hamstring injury in the final moments of stoppage time.