It took a late equalizer and the drama of penalties but Arsenal survived a massive scare against holders Wigan Athletic to reach the FA Cup final and offer some much-needed relief to under-fire manager Arsene Wenger.

After Lukasz Fabianski saved twice from the spot in the shootout, Santi Cazorla stepped up and delivered the winning penalty to send Arsenal through to their first FA Cup final in nine years and give themselves a chance to win their first trophy since that 2005 win on penalties over Manchester United.

On the back of a torrid recent run, it was anything but plain sailing for Arsenal against their Championship opponents. Wigan impressively frustrated a sterile Arsenal side for much of the encounter. And when Per Mertesacker clumsily brought down Callum McManaman in the box just before the hour mark and Jordi Gomez duly converted from the spot, another famous cup upset for the Latics looked on the cards. But Wigan’s heavy workload this season became a real factor late on as Arsenal finally began to find some momentum. Unlike in last year’s final, this time it was Wigan who conceded a late header, with Mertesacker finding the net with eight minutes remaining to take the match to extra time and test Wigan’s already tired legs further.

Albeit with the help of their woodwork, Uwe Rosler’s side showed real character to hang on for penalties. But once there it all fell apart for the underdogs. Gary Caldwell and Jack Collison both missed at the start of the shootout for Wigan, while Arsenal -- through Mikel Arteta, Kim Kallstrom, Olivier Giroud and Cazorla -- went four for four to claim a precious win by the narrowest of margins.

On a day where Arsenal relinquished their place in the top four to Everton, it would have been unthinkable and perhaps a decisive moment in Wenger’s 18-year reign had they suffered yet another bitter disappointment in their efforts to end their trophy drought. As it is, there remains hope of salvation from a season that once promised so much but of late appeared that it could deliver so little.

On a day where Arsenal relinquished their place in the top four to Everton, it would have been unthinkable and perhaps a decisive moment in Wenger’s 18-year reign had they suffered yet another bitter disappointment in their efforts to end their trophy drought. As it is, there remains hope of salvation from a season that once promised so much but of late appeared that it could deliver so little.

If they are to claim victory back at Wembley next month, and certainly if they are to earn a champions League berth, they will surely have to produce better performances than they came up with on Saturday. Not for the first time in recent weeks, Arsenal were lackluster in possession, with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain the one player looking capable of breaking the malaise and injecting some pace into Arsenal’s play. The midfielder set up Arsenal’s best chance of the first half when his lofted cross found Yaya Sanogo eight yards out, but the striker headed down and straight at Scott Carson.

The young Frenchman, still to score for the Gunners, was chosen in place of Giroud but still looked all too raw leading the line. Sanogo wasted further openings in the first 45 minutes when slicing wide from the edge of the box as well as overrunning the ball when through on goal and allowing Carson to come out and close down the angle. Bacary Sagna also shot off target from a tight angle, but in truth there looked little belief that they would break Wigan down.

As against Manchester City in the quarterfinal, Rosler set his side up with a three-man defense. On this occasion they were less proactive in pressing high up and instead were happy to sit back in their own half and frustrate their confidence-lacking opponents. Still, Wigan worked tirelessly to close both Arsenal and the space down. And they showed enough going forward, too, with McManaman threatening to expose the again noticeable weakness down the left side of Arsenal’s defense.

Sure enough, it was McManaman’s running that led to Wigan going in front. Having shaken off Nacho Monreal, McManaman burst forward down the right but looked to have overrun the ball as he cut inside. Instead his pace saw him easily get there ahead of Mertesacker, who foolishly lunged in and took down McManaman’s legs.

Jordi Gomez was forced to wait for more than two minutes to take the spot kick after Monreal received treatment and was then replaced by Kieran Gibbs. But the Spaniard kept his cool and his effort was directed well enough that Fabianski couldn’t get a glove to it despite diving the right way.

The atmosphere from the Arsenal fans inside Wembley turned further sour when boos rang around as Lukas Podolski was replaced by Giroud. Yet the change to two men up front helped Wenger’s side begin to put Wigan under pressure from the first time. Increasingly an equalizer now looked likely. Sanogo failed to take advantage of another chance when heading against the post, while just moments later Stephen Crainey desperately cleared off the line after Carson had crucially got a hand to Gibbs’s downward header.

Wigan, though, could not hold out as they did at the Etihad. Fittingly it was Mertesacker, the man whose error had led to Wigan’s goal and one of the very few inspirational characters within the Arsenal squad, who came to the rescue. Oxlade-Chamberlain’s scuffed shot wasn’t going to threaten but Mertesacker was perfectly placed in front of goal to direct a header past Carson.

When the game moved into extra-time, both teams were increasingly heavy on their feet. One of the players who had visible signs of cramp still came closest to negating the need for penalties when Oxlade-Chamberlain unleashed a fierce drive that had Carson well beaten, but the ball cannoned back off the angle of post and bar.

Rosler decided to hand his first two penalties to two men with fresh legs, but Fabianski dove each way to block the tame efforts from Caldwell and Collison. From there Arsenal were always in the ascendency and Cazorla’s coolness ensured Arsenal’s reprieve.



Highlights & All Goals ~ Wigan vs Arsenal 1-1... by chichared18023