Lukasz Fabianski saved two penalties as Arsenal beat holders Wigan Athletic 4-2 in a shootout at Wembley on Saturday to reach their first FA Cup final for nine years.
Having stunned Manchester City in last season’s final, before being relegated from the Premier League, Wigan looked set for another famous Wembley day when Jordi Gomez put them ahead with a 63rd-minute penalty, but Per Mertesacker made amends for conceding the penalty by heading in an 82nd-minute equalizer and with the score still 1-1 at the end of extra-time, Fabianski took center stage in the shootout.
The Pole, usually a deputy to compatriot Wojciech Szczesny, saved Wigan’s first two attempts, from Gary Caldwell and Jack Collison, before Santi Cazorla dispatched the decisive spot-kick to send Arsenal through.
“I’m relieved, because we were under big pressure, but I expected a difficult game and I was not disappointed,” Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger said. “We needed to show some character and some resilience, and as well some nerves, and we did it in a very united and resilient way.”
Victory took Wenger’s team into their first FA Cup final since 2005, when they last won a trophy, and helped ease the pain of being knocked out of the Premier League’s top four by Everton earlier in the day.
They play the winners of yesterday’s second semi-final between Hull City and Sheffield United.
Meanwhile, Uwe Rosler’s Wigan must turn their attention back to the Championship promotion chase, having been thwarted in their attempt to become only the seventh club to retain the FA Cup.
“I couldn’t ask for any more than what they’ve given me,” said Rosler, whose side eliminated his old club Manchester City in the quarter-finals. “Arsenal are one of the top teams in the country and we did very well. I’m absolutely proud of how they played and what they put in.”
The game was preceded by a minute’s silence in memory of the 96 Liverpool fans killed in the Hillsborough disaster, which occurred during an FA Cup semi-final in Sheffield 25 years ago this weekend. Ninety-six seats were also left empty on the halfway line.
Boosted by the return to fitness of Aaron Ramsey, who made his first start since December last year, Arsenal attacked the game with purpose on a mild, sunny afternoon at the national stadium.
Wigan goalkeeper Scott Carson smartly repelled a Yaya Sanogo header and then rushed out to thwart Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, while Bacary Sagna blazed wide from a tight angle after Thomas Vermaelen nodded a corner down.
Wigan were content to mass their ranks behind the ball, but they gradually began to show signs of life in attack.
Gomez saw a misdirected cross skim the crossbar, livewire Callum McManaman fired narrowly over and Marc-Antoine Fortune forced Fabianski into a near-post save.
It was Arsenal who finished the half on top, though, with Sanogo cantering onto a pass from Lukas Podolski, only for his heavy touch to allow Carson to make a save.
Wenger’s side continued to monopolize possession early in the second period, but with just under half an hour remaining Wigan went ahead.
After a weaving run into the penalty area from the right, McManaman was felled by the sliding Mertesacker and although Fabianski correctly guessed the direction of Gomez’s subsequent penalty, the Spaniard’s shot eluded him.
To compound matters for the Gunners, Nacho Monreal had to go off after colliding with McManaman in the buildup to the penalty, with Kieran Gibbs coming on. Olivier Giroud entered the fray in place of Podolski soon afterwards.