Arsenal wins FA Cup semi to move a step closer to ending its nine-year title drought
Gunners edge Championship side Wigan on penalties to advance
Everton overtakes Arsenal for fourth in the Premier League after beating Sunderland
Fulham and Cardiff City register victories at the bottom of the standings
It wasn’t easy but Arsenal fans might not mind.
Arsenal beat defending champion Wigan 4-2 on penalties at Wembley on Saturday to reach the FA Cup final and move a step closer to potentially ending a nine-year trophy drought.
Having given away a penalty early in the second half – converted by Jordi Gomez – Arsenal’s Per Mertesacker then atoned for his mistake by scoring to send the game to extra time.
Backup Arsenal keeper Lukasz Fabianski shone in the shootout, saving Wigan’s first two kicks.
The win must have been a relief for Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger, who is under pressure to deliver silverware after the Gunners faded badly in the Premier League title race. His contract is due to expire at the end of the campaign.
For Wigan, it can now fully concentrate on earning promotion back to the Premier League, safely in a playoff spot in the second tier.
Wenger raised eyebrows when he started 21-year-old Yaya Sanogo up front instead of top scorer Olivier Giroud, even though the French under-21 international hadn’t found the back of the net in nine previous games this season.
The gamble didn’t pay off. Sanogo’s header in the fifth minute from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s perfect cross – Oxlade-Chamberlain sparkled in the first half – was hit straight at Scott Carson and the striker’s poor first touch when he was put through allowed the former England starter to make another save late in the half.
The game opened up in the second half, with Arsenal doing the early pressing. But winger Callum McManaman, man of the match from last year’s FA Cup final, burst into the box and went down under a challenge from Mertesacker to alter the momentum.
Referee Michael Oliver paused before pointing to the spot and Gomez held his nerve to beat Fabianski in the 63rd minute, despite having to wait more than three minutes to take the penalty.
Another upset – Wigan ousted Manchester City in the quarterfinals – was on the cards.
Wenger responded by taking off German international Lukas Podolski – one of Arsenal’s liveliest players on the day – for Giroud, a decision booed by some Arsenal supporters.
A botched Wigan clearance allowed Oxlade-Chamberlain to deliver another cross in the 80th minute and fullback Bacary Sagna hit the post.
Arsenal continued to press and only two minutes later Carson saved from Kieran Gibbs’ header – with Stephen Crainey clearing off the line as the ball went towards goal.
The pressure paid off in the 82nd minute, however, Mertesacker heading home Oxlade-Chamberlain’s cross.
Extra time proved to be less frenetic, although Oxlade-Chamberlain’s swerving shot struck the woodwork and Wigan’s Jack Collison sent his header from a good position in the box wide.
Wigan manager Uwe Rosler elected to save Gomez for later in the penalty shootout and the move backfired. Fabianski stopped Gary Caldwell and Collison to put Wigan in an immediate hole and Santi Cazorla officially booked Arsenal’s ticket to the final when he beat Carson.
Arsenal faces either Hull City or third-tier Sheffield United – they play Sunday – in next month’s final.
But it wasn’t all good news for Arsenal on Saturday.
Everton overtook Arsenal for fourth in the Premier League – the final Champions League spot – after blanking last-place Sunderland 1-0 for a sixth consecutive victory. Wes Brown’s own goal in the second half handed all three points to the visiting Toffees.
With none of the title contenders playing until Sunday, attention mostly turned to the bottom of the table. Fulham beat Norwich 1-0 to move within two points of the road weary Canaries, who occupy the final safety spot.
Crystal Palace boosted its survival hopes by topping struggling Aston Villa 1-0, Cardiff City got a much needed win by surprising Southampton 1-0 away and Newcastle lost a fourth straight, 1-0 at Stoke.
For the second time in two weeks at home, West Bromwich Albion could only manage a 3-3 draw after taking an early 2-0 lead, this time against Tottenham. Dropped points for Spurs, though, dented their Champions League ambitions.
League leader Liverpool hosts third-place Manchester City on Sunday while second-place Chelsea travels to Swansea.