Robin van Persie opened the scoring after 29 seconds with an 18-yard drive before hitting a late winner for Arsenal with a wonderful curling free-kick after Sebastian Larsson had equalised for the Black Cats with a fine free-kick of his own.
Sunderland had a few opportunities to take a 2-1 lead after Larsson had levelled, the best falling to Cattermole, who headed Stephane Sessegnon's cross straight at Wojciech Szczesny from close range just before the break.
Bruce, under pressure with his side sitting just outside the relegation zone, said: "It was an awful start, but Larsson got us back in the game with a wonder goal.
"The big turning point for me was Lee's miss just before half-time.
"It's a great save, but I would be disappointed if I had missed from that range."