KEIR RADNEDGE at WEMBLEY: Arsenal remain on course for their first trophy in nine years but they made desperately hard work of seeing off FA Cup holders Wigan at Wembley: the Gunners needed a penalty shootout after their semi-final ended up 1-1 after extra time.
Keeper Lukasz Fabianski shared whatever eventual glory Arsenal gleaned by saving Wigan’s first two-spotkicks while Spanish midfielder Santi Cazorla converted the decisive last kick. Arsenal face Hull or Sheffield United in next month’s Final back at Wembley.
Wigan from the second tier of English football had taken the lead midway through the second half with a Jordi Gomez penalty but Per Mertesacker made amends for conceding the spotkick by levelling with eight minutes remaining.
In fact the Gunners could have had the match wrapped up in the first half. But after Yayo Sanogo struck the post in only the fifth minute their game, with the exception of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, became gradually subsumed in a strange lethargy.
Perhaps this was born out of the depression engendered by Champions League departure and heavy Premier defeats at the hands of Manchester City and Everton. Whatever the reason, a seam of uncertainty ran through their approach play which lacked the direction and cohesion so enjoyably evident in the first half of the season.
For Wigan and Uwe Rosler – the first German to manage an English club – reaching the midpoint with the frustration factor building was a satisfying part of their a plan whose effect was etched into the frown on the face of Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger as the teams emerged for the second half.
Wenger’s grown grew even deeper in the 59th minute when leftback Nacho Monreal was injured in being left behind by Callum McManaman and then the Wigan winger was tripped by Per Mertsacker as he dashed acros the face of the penalty box.
Referee Michael Oliver had little hesitation in pointing to the spot through Jordi Gomez had to wait three minutes – for treatment to Monreal – before taking the opportunity to drive his penalty beyond keeper Lukasz Fabianski. Wigan manager Rosler did not dare watch. He disappeared down the tunnel before the crowd reaction told him it was safe to come out.
Arsenal immediately replaced Monreal while Kieran Gibbbs while injury duly forced Wigan into replacing McManaman.
At long last Arsenal woke up to the occasion and the danger. At set pieces everyone except keeper Fabianski occupied the Wigan half.
Chances were now inevitable. Scott Carson dived left to save low from Oxlade-Chamberlain, then Bacary Sagna hit a post from close range, Stephen Crainey hooked a Gibbs header off the goal-line before Mertesacker made amends for his earlier blunder by heading Arsenal level from Oxlade-Chamberlain’s cross-shot.
Sanogo had one effort well saved by Carson the first half of extra time and Oxlade-Chamberlain was foiled only by the bar at the start of the second period. Wigan, in a rare response, saw a Jack Collison fly inches wide of Fabianski’s left-hand post.
Penalties (Wigan first):
Caldwell (saved) 0-0; Arteta 0-1
Collison (saved) 0-1; Kallstrom 0-2
Beausejour 1-2; Giroud 1-3
McArthur 2-3; Cazorla 2-4.