Arsenal: Fabianski, Sagna, Mertesacker, Vermaelen, Monreal, Arteta, Ramsey, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Cazorla, Podolski, Sanogo
Subs: Szczesny, Jenkinson, Gibbs, Kallstrom, Akpom, Eisfeld, Giroud.
It wasn’t fun, in any way, but Arsenal booked their place in the FA Cup final with penalty shoot-out win over Wigan at Wembley this afternoon.
Arsene Wenger sprang something of a surprise, handing a start to Yaya Sanogo ahead of Olivier Giroud, while Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Aaron Ramsey returned to the starting line-up.
The England man almost found himself through on goal inside 60 seconds, but Sanogo’s flick rebounded off him and into the arms of Scott Carson. And the roles were reversed in the 6th minute, this time the Ox’s great cross was headed straight down into the ground and at the Wigan keeper by the young Frenchman. Either side of Carson and he’d have scored but it was a good effort.
As expected Arsenal dominated possession with Wigan sitting deep and organised behind the ball. When they did push forward, Aaron Ramsey found Oxlade-Chamberlain with a wonderful long ball over the top, but Carson blocked the lobbed effort out for a corner.
With Wigan so defensive, and Arsenal not exactly willing to leave space in behind by pushing too far forward, it became a game of many passes but not much in the way of chances or attacking play.
Ramsey’s fine 26th minute pass to Sanogo resulted in an Arsenal corner, which ended up with Bacary Sagna at the back post. On his left foot, and from a tight angle, he put the ball back across goal and just beyond the far corner.
At the other end a Jordi Gomez cross skimmed the top of the crossbar, before McManaman steamed past Vermaelen into the box, and put in a low cross which Mertesacker cleared. Sanogo fired a shot high and wide, but Arsenal fans in the stadium were growing obviously frustrated at Arsenal attacking struggles.
McManaman again showed Arsenal needed to be aware, firing a shot just over from a tight angle after again getting some joy against Vermaelen, and Lukasz Fabianski was forced into his first save of the day after Fortune got a good shot away.
Lukas Podolski curled a free kick not far wide in the 40th minute, before Yaya Sanogo was put through on goal a moment later. His pace took him away from the defenders but his first touch was poor and that allowed Carson to get out and block the shot.
It meant the teams remained scoreless at the break, and although Arsenal certainly had more of the ball, they definitely lacked end product in their attacking play.
As expected there were no changes on either side at half-time, and not much change in the way of the game. Sanogo was easily eased out of the way when chasing a Cazorla pass into the Wigan box, and Mikel Arteta had to be alert at the other end, making an excellent block as the Latics threatened.
There was a bit more pace to Arsenal’s passing in the second period, but in the 59th minute Wigan were awarded a penalty when Per Mertesacker brought down Callum McManaman in the box. There was a delay before the taking as Monreal got treatment for an injury picked up in the build up to the penalty concession, and the Spaniard was taken off on a stretcher.
However, Wigan’s Spaniard, Jordi Gomez, stepped up and fired home the penalty to put the Championship side 1-0 up, while Kieran Gibbs came on for Monreal. Ramsey then put in a good cross for Sanogo which the striker prodded over the bar.
Arsene Wenger then put on Olivier Giroud for Lukas Podolski, a decision which was met with boos, although in truth the German had been peripheral. Oxlade-Chamberlain tested Carson from distance but found the keeper up to the task, and although the Gunners huffed and puffed they couldn’t find any way through.
An 80th minute corner almost saw an equaliser when the ball hit Sagna and rebounded off the post. Moments later Carson made a brilliant save from Gibbs who saw the ball cleared the ball off the line as it was creeping in, but in the 82nd minute the man who gave away the penalty provided salvation.
Arsenal had a corner, it came in, Vermaelen got a head on it Sanogo laid it off to Oxlade-Chamberlain who mishit his shot but Mertesacker was at the back post to head it home. 1-1, sweet relief, and the defender celebrated with real emotion after making the mistake which gave Wigan their penalty.
Giroud tested Carson with a low shot in the 87th minute which the keeper held well, before Mertesacker headed over from a corner. The referee added five minutes to the the 90 but neither side could find a winner in regulation time, so the game went into extra time.
Wigan had the first shot of the first period, Powell firing over the bar, before Aaron Ramsey squirmed into the box and saw an effort blocked. The Welshman then fired in a great cross for Sanogo which the youngster missed completely from inside the 6 yard box.
Sanogo then forced Carson into a good save and from the resulting corner hooked a shot over the Wigan bar. Oxlade-Chamberlain saw a shot blocked in the Wigan box, but the game slowed down with the players out on their feet, and after the first 15 minutes there were no more goals.
The second period was even slower but Arsenal were desperately unlucky not to be ahead when Oxlade-Chamberlain rattled the crossbar with a brilliant effort and the keeper beaten. At the other end Collison planted a header not far wide with Fabianski rooted to the spot. The Wigan forward also capitalised on an Oxlade-Chamberlain error, but put his shot wide.
Aaron Ramsey was replaced by Kim Kallstrom but in the end we reached the 120 minute mark and the game went to penalties.
Lukasz Fabianski saved the first Wigan spot kick, Arteta put Arsenal 1-0 up. The Pole saved the second too, as Kallstrom made it 2-0. Wigan scored their next one, Giroud put Arsenal further ahead, and Wigan forced it to go to Santi Cazorla, but in the end the Spaniard kept his composure to put Arsenal through to the final.
It wasn’t at all pleasant, but like getting a handjob from an old crone, we still got there in the end!