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Arsenal keep FA Cup dream alive after penalty drama

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Arsenal are through to their first FA Cup final since 2005 after finally showing bottle to beat Wigan Athletic 4-2 on penalties in a nerve-shredding finale for their 60,000 fans at Wembley Stadium, but boy did they do it the hard way.

Superb spot kicks from Mikel Arteta, Kim Kallstrom, Olivier Giroud and Santi Cazorla eroded early penalty pain that came within just eight minutes of ending their silverware ambitions for another season, with an effort from Jordi Gomez that broke the deadlock on the hour mark cancelled out by Per Mertesacker's late equaliser.

Gunners boss Arsene Wenger had his patience tested to the full by a spirited Wigan effort though, coupled with another largely inept performance from his charges, as Uwe Rosler's men largely frustrated a struggling side which looked devoid of ideas for so long in their biggest match of the season.

In truth despite a fairly tepid tempo Arsenal could have killed the match inside 45 minutes, if it weren't for the wasteful finishing of young striker Yaya Sanogo.

The French powerhouse was favoured ahead of top scorer Olivier Giroud for only his fourth start of the season, immediately offering pace and physical presence but not the predatory instinct to match.

Wigan's commitment to keeping their wing-backs high and hugging the touchline helped Arsenal create a clear-cut chance inside 10 minutes, as Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain intercepted a sloppy pass from Ivan Ramis.

Oxlade-Chamberlain combined with Santi Cazorla before producing a pinpoint cross for Sanogo inside the six-yard box, but his header was straight down goalkeeper Scott Carson's throat, either side of the stopper and Arsenal took an early lead.

Bacary Sagna also spurned a strong chance to break the deadlock midway through the opening period, lashing just wide from a tight angle after Thomas Vermaelen flicked a corner kick into his path.

The Latcis looked to isolate Callum McManaman against Nacho Monreal at the other end, but despite showing the full-back and Vermaelen a clean pair of heels on successive occasions Wigan couldn't offer support to make that supply line count in the first half.

Five minutes before the break opportunism helped Arsenal catch Wigan in possession high up the pitch again to force a golden chance, as Lukas Podolski's quick thinking set Sanogo clean through with a long pass to chance.

Sanogo looked set to seize the moment as he just about controlled at the second time of asking, but as 60,000 Arsenal fans in attendance rose to their feet a tame low effort was parried by the onrushing Carson.

The Gunners paid a heavy price for their failure to break the deadlock as Wigan did just that 15 minutes into the second half, after a moment of madness from one of Wenger's most experienced players.

Per Mertesacker was the player at fault, going to ground in his attempt to stop a rampaging McManaman run inside and lunging wildly at the exciting young winger.

Quite what a player of Mertesacker's experience was doing hurtling to the floor in that situation was anyone's guess, but a moment of madness coupled with McManaman's burst of pace and invention ensured a penalty kick was the only option.

Referee Michael Oliver pointed to the spot and despite a long delay before taking the spot kick Jordi Gomez held his nerve, sending a composed, powerful strike just inside Lukasz Fabianski's near post.

Wenger quickly reacted by swapping Podolski for Olivier Giroud, a decision whch was met by loud boos from the Arsenal faithful, who saw their season slipping away heading into the final 20 minutes.

Considered build-up gave way to direct attack in the final 15 minutes as Arsenal desperately tried to save their season, with instant results.

First Oxlade-Chamberlain's deep cross came back off the post after deflecting off Sanogo's leap in the penalty area, before a combination of Carson's hands and a goal-line Ramis clearance stopped substitute Kieran Gibbs levelling the scores.

Wigan couldn't withstand a deluge of late pressure and 10 minutes before time Arsenal had their equaliser, as Mertesacker was left free at the far post to turn home a wayward Gibbs shot and atone for his earlier mistake.

This term Mertesacker was on the floor for all the right reasons as Arsenal players and supporters showed just how much the FA Cup means to them this season, with bedlam engulfing two-thirds of Wembley in wild celebrations befitting such a vital late intervention.

Just 10 minutes earlier the Gunners faithful were roundly booing Wenger's decision to swap Podolski for Giroud, but in a switch indicative of their campaign that change did in fact rescue what was a desperate situation even by Arsenal standards this term.

The FA Cup holders rode out a nervy final few minutes to reach extra-time though, which Arsenal immediately started in the ascendany as Aaron Ramsey's brilliant curling cross just evaded a desperate late dive from Sanogo.

15 frantic minutes of extra time flew by without any sign of a magic moment from either side, although Wigan definitely looked the more tired team as Uwe Rosler attempted to rouse his troops for a final battle.

Arsenal pressed when play resumed and so nearly got the vital late breakthrough courtesy of Oxlade-Chamberlain, who burst inside to meet Bacary Sagna's lay-off before unleashing a swirling drive that crashed back off the crossbar before hurtling away to safety.

Ramsey's first start since Boxing Day finished seven minutes shy of the full 30 in extra-time, with Kim Kallstrom on to replace the Welshman as the prospect of penalties drew ever closer.

Arsenal's urgency to find a late winner was summed up by Wenger's dash to retrieve possession as a late clearance flew towards his technical area, but those efforts came up short on and off the pitch as the match ended all-square, left up to the lottery of penalty kicks.

So often this season Wenger's men have been found wanting when it mattered in massive matches, but Lukasz Fabianski set the tone for a flawless penalty shootout by leaping brilliantly to deny Gary Caldwell from eight yards.

Fabianski also turned Jack Collison's effort away straight after and provided the platform for Cazorla to cleverly send Carson the wrong way and secure victory, finally ending Arsenal's hoodoo at the renovated Wembley and just about keeping their rollercoaster campaign on track to deliver a trophy, but only by the skin of their teeth.

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Topics:
Football
FA Cup
Arsenal
Wigan Athletic

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