Arsenal 1-1 Wigan (Arsenal win 4-2 on pens) - Fabianski to the rescue in pulsating semi-final
Arsène Wenger, at the end of this exhilarating FA Cup semi-final, saluted the 55,000 Arsenal support who were jumping up and down in joy and relief.
They and Wenger had been put through an emotional rollercoaster. From anguish when Jordi Gomez scored from the spot to frustration with the frequently wayward passes to ecstasy when Mertesacker dived to head past the imperious Scott Carson. And ecstacy again when Santi Cazorla drove home the eighth penalty in an absorbing penalty shootout.
Wenger resorted to biting his fingernails and employing a 4-4-2 system when Wigan led. The majority Arsenal crowd, out-numbering their Latics counter-parts with a ratio of 5-1, groaned in frustration and lambasted Wenger's bold substitutions. At the end of it all, relief reverberated around the Gunners end.
Lukasz Fabianski repaid Wenger's faith in him to emerge as the hero, saving from Craig Caldwell and Jack Collison before Cazorla ambled up to send his side into May's FA Cup final.
The Gunners called upon their resolve and character to banish their New Wembley woes and fight back from Gomez's opener. Mertesacker lead excellently, marshalling Arsenal's revival and amending for his clumsily-conceded spot-kick to score a monumental goal. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was vibrant and energetic, wreaking havoc from the word go. Yaya Sanago, a selection surprise, was prominent but largely profligate. Wigan's penalty takers were too.
The oustanding Callum McManaman, perplexingly replaced by Rosler in the second-half, did not merit to be on the losing side, winning the penalty from which Gomez scored from and posing a constant threat on the right flank.
This was not how the script was written. The masses of Arsenal faithful took to their seats at the new Wembley for only third time, having experienced painful defeat in the two previous encounters but here, they expected.
Arsenal began brightly, causing their Championship opponents problems with the vigour of Chamberlain's play. The England midfielder drifted in behind the Wigan defence and cushioned his cross into the path of the on-rushing Sanago, whose point-blank header was saved spectacularly by Carson. It was directed too close to the former England keeper - anywhere else and Arsenal lead within the first five minutes.
Wenger's side imposed themselves on the opening exchanges, despite the frequent lapses of concentration. Sagna should have scored from Vermaelen's flicked header, firing high and wide instead.
Wigan, despite the Arsenal domination, stayed in the game. Callum McManaman, man of the match here last season in the cup final against Manchester City, was a menace down the right flank, tying the exploited Nacho Monreal into knots.
Wigan were enjoying good spells in the match, depriving Arsenal of possession and employing the style of football stamped on this team by Roberto Martinez, evoking agitation between the Arsenal supporters. And when Podolski fired wide from a free-kick and Sanago constantly found himself off-side, the red end of Wembley sighed a collective groan of derision - this was harder than they had anticipated.
Then Wigan made chairman Dave Whelan dream again. The excellent McManaman drifted forcefully past Monreal, who was replaced by Gibbs after succumbing to injury in his efforts to halt McManaman's courageous progress, before Mertesacker succeeded in doing so. After some hesitation, Michael Oliver pointed to the spot. Gomez, clutching the ball firmly, called upon his ice-cool composure to stroke the ball into the left hand corner after an agonizingly long wait with Monreal receiving treatment. He was the coolest man in the stadium.
McManaman departed in a bewildering substitution, and Manchester United Nick Powell strode on to the pristine Wembley turf before the Arsenal end aired their derision at Podolski's withdrawal, boos ringing around Wembley that could be heard in Ivan Gazidis's office as Giroud took up his place alongside Sanago in a 4-4-2 system used sparingly by Wenger this season.
Arsenal were edging closer to the equaliser. Sagna headed against the post with the goal gaping before Carson amazingly thwarted Gibbs and Crainey cleared off the line. Mertesacker, however, would not be denied from amending for his earlier error, beating the Wigan offside trap and diving to head beyond Carson's despaired reach.
In a frantic end to this wonderful semi-final, Wigan resorted to cynical fouls to keep this reinvigorated Arsenal side at bay - McArthur on Giroud and Collison on Gibbs.
In the 30 minutes of extra-time, Carson parried away Sanago's sweetly-struck effort before Chamberlain's thunderous effort rocked the crossbar. The stage was set for the lottery of the penalty shootout.
Up stepped Caldwell, who was making his first appearance since May, and saw his penalty easily thwarted by Fabianski. Arteta scored before Collison missed and Kallstrom and Beausejour dispatched their kicks. As the Arsenal fans belted out their Hey Jude version dedicated to Giroud, the Frenchman sent Carson sprawling the wrong way. McArthur scored but that didn't matter - Cazorla ambled up to fire Arsenal into the FA Cup final, the hard way.
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