By Richard Clarke at Wembley
Arsenal are through to the FA Cup final.
They won 4-2 on penalties after a tight, tense semi-final at Wembley on Saturday.
Lukasz Fabianski made crucial saves from Wigan’s first two spot-kicks. Arsenal scored all theirs to reach the final for a record-equalling 18th time in their history.
Normal time had been all about Per Mertesacker. On 63 minutes he clipped Callum McManaman in the area and Jordi Gomez converted from the spot. On 82 minutes the German steered in a close-range header from an errant shot by Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. His personal relief was obvious.
Arsenal had edged the 120 minutes but were clear winners from 12 yards.
They can now look forward to a sunny afternoon back here in May.
SETTING THE SCENE
At his pre-match press conference, Arsène Wenger had revealed Aaron Ramsey would start his first game since Boxing Day. Aside from that, the Frenchman retained his FA Cup side. That meant Fabianski and Yaya Sanogo continued in goal and up front respectively.
Wembley was picture-perfect at kick off. Wenger’s men were trying to reach the FA Cup final for the first time since 2005.
But to do that they had to beat the holders; a side who had defied the odds in this competition on numerous occasion over the course of the past 18 months.
Oxlade-Chamberlain caught the eye as Arsenal took charge in the opening stages.
The former Southampton midfielder darted through but miscontrolled at the crucial moment and Scott Carson collected.
In the sixth minute, Oxlade-Chamberlain hooked the ball to the near post where Sanogo timed his run perfectly.
His header was powerful and directed downward however it was straight at the keeper, who blocked with his body.
It was a huge chance to make a perfect start.
Arsenal continued to control the game without really looking like scoring. However they should have broken the deadlock midway through the half when Santi Cazorla’s corner was nodded on by Thomas Vermaelen and Bacary Sagna slid a left-foot shot just wide of the far post from an acute angle.
Wigan had offered nothing in the first half-hour. Then McManaman beat Thomas Vermaelen on the outside and crossed near to the near post. Mertesacker kicked clear. Soon after that the same Wigan player darted a shot over the bar from a narrow angle.
The game was meandering to half-time but Arsenal would have one more major chance. Sanogo burst through onto Lukas Podolski's through-ball but his first touch forced him wide and, though he got a crisp shot away, Carson saved.
It was more of the same immediately after the restart. Arsenal were marginally the better side, without ever dominating, while Wigan were working hard to manufacture mistakes.
Ironically Arsenal had a flurry of pressure before Wigan took the lead just after the hour.
McManaman dribbled across the area and drew Mertesacker into a sliding challenge. The German was late and clearly brought down the skillful midfielder.
Gomez beat Fabianski from the spot.
Between the decision and the goal, Nacho Monreal had been stretchered off. Gibbs replaced him.
A couple of minutes later, Olivier Giroud replaced Podolski. Arsenal would chase the game with two strikers.
The switch had an immediate effect. Wenger’s men were urgent and poured on pressure. Sanogo was dispossessed as he went clear then Oxlade-Chamberlain thumped a long-range drive into the chest of the diving Carson.
Eleven minutes from time, the same player curled a ball to the far post where Sagna emerged to send a scruffy header against the far post.
An unrestrained Arsenal were now going for it. Sanogo nodded on for Kieran Gibbs to direct a header towards the far post. It looked like a goal but Carson thrust out an excellent hand to divert the ball wide.
A goal just had to arrive.
In the 82nd minute, it did.
Sanogo set up Oxlade-Chamberlain to shoot. It was a bobbling effort that was going wide but Mertesacker emerged to steer in a stooping header at the far post.
Having given away the penalty, the German’s celebration was emotional.
Arsenal tried to retain their intensity and Giroud forced a fine low save from Carson. However extra-time always seemed inevitable.
Wenger’s men began added time in the ascendency. Ramsey had a shot blocked then the sliding Sanogo just missed the Welshman’s cross.
Shortly afterwards the French forward saw a shot tipped over and, from the corner, fired high.
At the start of the second period, Oxlade-Chamberlain crashed a rising effort against the post from the edge of the area.
Although Jack Collison would nod wide, by now it appeared that Wigan were happy to settle this from the spot. However both teams were suffering from fatigue.
Wenger swapped the tiring Ramsey for Kim Kallstrom. Two hours of game play would have been a Herculean effort in your first start in four months.
Fabianski drew first blood in the penalty shoot when he saved from Gary Caldwell and Collison. Mikel Arteta and Kallstrom scored theirs.
Jean Beausejour scored but so did Giroud. Although James McArthur scored, Cazorla converted to send Arsenal through.
Referee: Michael Oliver
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