Santi Cazorla scored the winning penalty as Arsenal came from behind to beat holders Wigan Athletic in their FA Cup semi-final clash at Wembley.
Jordi Gomez had given Wigan a second-half lead with a penalty after Per Mertesacker chopped down the impressive Callum McManaman.
Arsenal rallied after the penalty and Mertesacker redeemed himself by equalising from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s scuffed shot.
After a goalless extra-time there was to be no fairytale defence of the crown for Wigan as they missed two penalties in the shoot-out, allowing Cazorla to calmly slot home to record a 4-2 shoot-out win and send his team to the final in May.
The win lifts the pressure on manager Arsene Wenger after he selected a weakened starting-line up following a torrid 3-0 loss to Everton, placing faith in a young and energetic side.
Arsenal’s pace caused Wigan big problems and they should have taken the lead after five minutes when Yaya Sanogo powered a header straight at Scott Carson from Oxlade-Chamberlain’s volleyed cross.
Oxlade-Chamberlain quickly asserted himself along Arsenal’s right-hand side and his pace almost created an opening as he chased a chipped ball, but an alert Carson stooped to turn the ball away for a corner.
For all of the Gunners’ early possession they created little in the opening quarter of the game as Wigan’s 3-4-3 formation set about stifling their opponent’s creative midfield.
It was left to Aaron Ramsey, making his first Arsenal start since Boxing Day, to rustle up some quality in a congested midfield.
His incisive pass to Sanogo was skewed away for a corner which presented Bacary Sagna with a good chance from an acute angle after Thomas Vermaelen’s knock-down, but the Frenchman could only lift the ball over the Wigan crossbar.
The Latics had hardly ventured into Arsenal’s half and a dismal Gomez cross that drifted out of play was a fair reflection of their start to the game.
However, Uwe Rosler’s side gradually worked themselves into the game and looked more dangerous with McManaman in possession – a point justified when the young winger briefly got in behind the slow Arsenal defence only to waste his opportunity with a heavy cross.
Arsenal were also proving to be profligate with their opportunities and Sanogo was again guilty of wastefulness when he blazed over from 20 yards after another threatening run from Oxlade-Chamberlain.
McManaman had easily been Wigan’s best player in the first-half and, after earning a shooting opportunity with his pace, a rifled shot was followed by a tame effort from Marc-Antoine Fortune who worked Lukasz Fabianski for the first time.
Moments later Sanogo’s poor finishing continued as he spurned the best chance of the half.
The inexperienced French striker was sent clear by Lukas Podolski’s clearance but a shoddy touch enabled Carson to close on him quickly and dispose of the danger.
For all of Sanogo’s impressive link-up play during the half his goalscoring ability has been in question and Arsenal might have led had his chances fallen to the benched Olivier Giroud.
Arsenal began the second half at a breathless speed, but it was actually Wigan who were the more menacing as a spell of pressure – including a weak penalty appeal after a nudge from Ramsey on James McArthur – induced jitters in the Arsenal defence.
The cup-tie was suddenly wide open and Wigan were the first to profit when McManaman held off Nacho Monreal before cutting inside and drawing a foul from the sliding Mertesacker to earn a penalty.
Arsenal were livid as they believed Monreal was fouled but, after a four-minute delay to treat the Spaniard’s groin injury, Gomez confidently swept the ball home from the spot.
Rosler, who couldn’t bear to watch the penalty, reacted by replacing the excellent McManaman and Josh McEachran with Nick Powell and Jack Collison respectively.
Rosler’s counterpart Wenger also made a change at this critical phase of the game by hauling off Podolski for Giroud and switching to a 4-4-2 formation.
Arsenal consequently began to mount growing pressure on the Wigan defence and were desperately close to an equaliser when Sagna hit the post with a header from Oxlade-Chamberlain’s cross.
Seconds later a chipped cross was flicked on by Sanogo which released Kieran Gibbs on goal but he was denied by a fabulous save from Carson before Stephen Crainey hooked clear.
Eventually Wigan buckled and Arsenal equalised with eight minutes remaining.
Sanogo’s strength was again a key factor as he laid the ball off for Oxlade-Chamberlain whose mishit shot was turned in by Mertesacker at the far post as the German made amends for conceding the earlier penalty to take the game into extra-time.
Oxlade-Chamberlain and Sanogo combined again to create the only meaningful shot of the first extra-time period, but the Frenchman could only fire at Carson after a neat swivel.
With just ten minutes of extra-time remaining, Arsenal struck the woodwork for a second time when Oxlade-Chamberlain unleashed an outswinging shot from 20 yards that crashed against the angle.
Wigan still looked a threat on the break, and a mazy run from Powell past the tired Arsenal defence might have produced a winning goal but the on-loan Manchester United man dragged his early shot harmlessly wide as the match headed for penalties.
Wigan’s Gary Caldwell and Collison had dreadful penalties saved by Fabianski, enabling Arsenal to open up a 2-0 lead when Mikel Arteta and Kim Kallstrom slotted home.
A Giroud penalty was sandwiched between successful Jean Beausejour and James McArthur spot-kicks but Cazorla was left with the decisive strike and he made no mistake to send Arsenal through to the final as they look to win their first silverware since a 2005 FA Cup win.
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