Arsenal booked their place in The FA Cup Final for the first time in nine years after knocking out holders Wigan Athletic on penalties in a gripping encounter at Wembley Stadium.
The sharp shrill of Michael Oliver’s whistle had looked to be the game’s defining moment when Jordi Gomez put Wigan ahead from the spot after 63 minutes until Per Mertesacker – responsible for conceding the spot-kick – headed home a dramatic equaliser to send the tie into extra-time and penalties.
Wigan 1-1 Arsenal (2-4 pens)
The FA Cup with Budweiser
Wembley Stadium connected by EE
Lukasz Fabianski was the shoot-out hero – saving two of the four he faced before Santi Cazorla converted the decisive spot-kick to send Arsenal into the final and their fans one step closer to end the trophy drought before it reaches its 10th year.
The day began with a carnival atmosphere under the bright springtime sunshine in London. More than 50,000 Arsenal fans had made the short trip west and were hoping to see their side record their first success at the new Wembley, while Wigan’s faithful looked at home in the stadium’s east section – dreaming of a repeat of last season’s victory.
Ninety-six seats, all laden with Liverpool scarves, were left vacant in memory of those who died at Hillsborough 25 years ago
The match kicked off after a stirring silence, and spontaneous round of applause, in memory of the 96 who died in the Hillsborough disaster 25 years ago.
Not one of the Arsenal starting 11 had won a medal at the club - while Wigan included seven of their 2013 FA Cup heroes in their matchday squad. Emmerson Boyce, James McArthur, Jordi Gomez and Callum McManaman all know what it is like to win at Wembley - and all were named in Uwe Rosler’s starting line-up.
Despite Wigan’s track record in the competition, Arsenal’s Premier League status ensured they began the game as overwhelming favourites. However, during the opening exchanges one would have been hard-pushed to differentiate between David and Goliath.
Wigan confident and composed in possession – while Arsenal stark in contrast, were edgy and nervous.
Yaya Sanogo – yet to score in an Arsenal shirt - personified Arsenal’s nervy start and fluffed the best chance of the first half when Lukas Podolski’s pass sent him clean through on Scott Carson’s goal – but the former England stopper smothered well and the chance was gone.
As Arsenal continuously failed to find their rhythm the frustration among their fans became palpable. The second half began as the sun went down – both in the sky, and for a short while, seemingly on Arsenal’s season.
Wigan, attacking the end Ben Watson famously headed Latics fans into delirium in the last minute of the 2013 FA Cup Final, sent their supporters there again just before the hour-mark when Mertesacker brought down Callum McManaman inside the Arsenal box.
The referee had no hesitation in pointing to the spot and - after a wait that what must have seemed a lifetime while Nacho Monreal received treatment – Gomez calmly stepped up and fired his left-foot effort past the despairing Fabianski.
Arsenal’s response was forceful and immediate. Top scorer Olivier Giroud entered the fray and the Gunners’ camped inside the Wigan half.
Sanogo struck a post, while substitute Kieran Gibbs’ headed effort was spectacularly saved by Carson. The pressure was mounting and the Latics’ brave resistance was broken on 82 minutes when Mertesacker atoned for his earlier error and scored the equaliser.
Gibbs’ shot skipped up off the Wembley turf and directly into the big German’s path – who was able to head home from three yards out.
Arsenal were back in it and the emotion in the stands could be described as a mix of relief, excitement and nervous anticipation.
Wigan sat back during extra-time and looked to hit Wenger’s men on the break.
Oxlade-Chamberlain went close on 110 minutes when his rasping shot flew back off an upright – while moments later substitute Jack Collison headed just wide for the Latics.
Watch the slo-mo highlights of the game
Neither could find the breakthrough, though, and the tie drifted towards penalties.
Fabianski saved from Gary Caldwell and Collison – and Mikel Arteta, Kim Kallstrom, Giroud and finally Santi Cazorla converted to ensure Arsenal will return to face either Hull City or Sheffield United on 17 May.
Wigan Athletic (3-3-3-1): 1 Scott Carson; 17 Emmerson Boyce, 21 Ivan Ramis, 3 Stephen Crainey; 24 James Perch, 16 James McArthur, 22 Jean Beausejour; 4 Josh McEachran, 14 Jordi Gomez, 15 Callum McManaman; 32 Marc-Antoine Fortune.
Substitutes: 34 Jack Collison (for McEachran, 64), 19 Nick Powell (for McManaman, 68), 5 Gary Caldwell (for Ramis, 86)
Subs not used: 26 Ali Al Habsi, 10 Shaun Maloney, 18 Roger Espinoza, 25 Leon Barnett.
Goals: Gomez 63pen
Bookings: Gomez 78, McArthur 90, Collison 90
Manager: Uwe Rosler
Arsenal (4-2-3-1): 21 Lukasz Fabianski; 3 Bacary Sagna, 4 Per Mertesacker, 5 Thomas Vermaelen, 17 Nacho Monreal; 8 Mikel Arteta, 16 Aaron Ramsey; 15 Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, 19 Santi Cazorla, 9 Lukas Podolski; 22 Yaya Sanogo.
Substitutes: 28 Kieran Gibbs (for Monreal, 63), 12 Olivier Giroud (for Podolski, 68), 29 Kim Kallstrom (for Ramsey 113)
Subs not used: 1 Wojciech Szczesny, 25 Carl Jenkinson, 37 Chuba Akpom, 42 Thomas Eisfeld
Goals: Mertesacker 82
Manager: Arsene Wenger
Referee: Michael Oliver