Arsenal FC scraped through their semi-final game with Wigan Athletic FC to keep their FA Cup hopes alive. Arsene Wenger’s men, who haven’t lifted a major trophy since 2005, were favourites going into the tie, but found themselves held to a 1-1 draw after extra time and required penalties to finally overcome their stubborn Championship opponents. The Gunners will now either face Hull City or Sheffield United in the final at Wembley on Saturday May 17, with the other semi-final being played tomorrow.
The game started well for Arsenal, whose main goal-threat Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain provided an inch-perfect cross for young striker Yaya Sanogo to header straight at goalkeeper Scott Carson inside five minutes. The majority of the first half saw lots of possession for the Premier League side and in particular midfielder Mikel Arteta, but neither team managed much penetration into the opposite final-third and Wenger will have been disappointed at the apparent ease in which Wigan were able to keep his side at bay.
A large proportion of Wigan’s joy on the ball came with the involvement of Callum McManaman, who had the beating of experienced left-back Thomas Vermaelen on more than one occasion but found his crosses met by a defiant Arsenal defence. Arguably the best chance of the half fell again to Sanogo, who was able to outpace the Wigan back-four from Lukas Podolski’s through ball but let himself down with a poor touch and scuffed a tame effort into the legs of Carson. The half-time whistle was blown without either side feeling as though they had done enough to lead the game.
The second half began with more of the same from both sets of players, but the cat was placed forcefully amongst the pigeons 13 minutes later, when Per Mertesacker clumsily brought down McManaman in the box and referee Michael Oliver instantly pointed to the spot. Despite a lengthy delay directly after the penalty was conceded to deal with an injury to Arsenal midfielder Nacho Monreal, Jordi Gomez put Wigan ahead with a confident spot-kick, and ensured Arsenal would have to scrape through the remaining half an hour to keep their FA Cup hopes alive.
The London club did just that, albeit in a slow and unconvincing manner. Sagna hit the woodwork with an unlucky header but Arsenal managed to level it less than two minutes later, with Chamberlain mishitting a half volley on the edge of the area only to see his attempt fall straight to the head of team-mate Mertesacker, who atoned for his earlier mistake by guiding the ball into a gaping Wigan net.
The rest of the 90 minutes was full of Arsenal pressure, but Wigan held on to take the game into extra-time. The added half an hour was rather eventless; the main chance of note being Chamberlain’s fiercely struck shot that thundered against the underside of the bar from just outside the box. By the time 120 minutes were over, both sides seemed content to settle the match via penalties.
Arsenal took command of the shoot out instantly, with converted kicks by Arteta and Kallstrom and two fine saves by goalkeeper Fabianski to deny Caldwell and Collison. Jean Beausejour and James McArthur both scored for Wigan to give themselves a fighting chance of staying in the game, but well-taken efforts from Oliver Giroud and Santi Cazorla meant that Arsenal won the shoot out without missing a single penalty.
It means heartbreak for Wigan, who will now turn their attention to Championship promotion in their likely upcoming play-off challenge. The fact that Arsenal managed to scrape their way through meanwhile, means that on the day Everton FC stole fourth place from under them in the Premier League, they can still celebrate the fact that their FA Cup hopes are still well and truly alive.
Commentary by Zachary John