KEIR RADNEDGE at WEMBLEY: Arsenal reached the FA Cup Final for a record 19th time but once again stretched their fans’ nerves taut before defeating Reading 2-1 after extra time at Wembley.
Last season the Gunners defeated Wigan Athletic only on penalties in the semi-final and memories of that close call came streaming back as they allowed their second tier opponents to fight a way back into the game in the second half.
In the end the hero of their edgy victory was Chile forward Alexis Sanchez who repaid more of his club record £35m fee by scoring both goals after 35 and 105 minutes; by contrast the tearful scapegoat at the final whistle was Adam Federici, Reading’s Australian goalkeeper.
After Reading had levelled with a 54th-minute strike from Gavin McCleary to earn extra-time Federici let what proved Sanchez’s winning shot, midway through the extra period, slip through his hands and legs and over the line.
Federici, in tears, had to be consoled by his manager Steve Clarke at the final whistle.
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger said: “It was a difficult game against a resilient and well-organised and physically very committed Reading team, comparable to what we faced last year against Wigan. We have improved a bit because last year we needed penalties.
“We had 72pc of possession and 23 shots on goal but still it was difficult to find space because they defended very well.
“In the second half they became even stronger and in the end we were a bit lucky because their goalkeeper made a mistake. I can understand that he was distraught but he had kept them in the game for a long period.
“They were ready to die on the pitch and you have to congratulate them for the effort they put in.
“Sanchez made a fantastic contribution. He struggled to get into the game at the start but he has that stubborn resilience which allows him to create something special.”
Reading manager Steve Clarke is still hunting a victory over Wenger after four defeats while he was bossing West Bromwich Albion.
He complained that offside and penalty claim decisions by referee Martin Atkinson had gone against them.
But he added: “It’s not a case of being robbed, it’s about getting what you deserve from the game. The effort and the tactical and technical discipline was there.
“You feel for Adam Federici, this is the life of a goalkeeper: the big mistake.
“If you lose, you want to lose to a moment of brilliance not a mistake. But I’m sure if you did a shortlist of top three players at Reading this season, he would be up there. I told him [after the game] to keep his head up . . . We win as a team and lose a team.”