By ROB HARRIS
2014-04-13 03:42 AM
LONDON (AP) -- Arsenal avoided FA Cup embarrassment against second-tier club Wigan on Saturday, coming from behind against the holder and winning a penalty shootout to reach the final where the London club will be looking to end a nine-year trophy drought.
After extra time ended 1-1, Arsenal's players scored all of their penalties -- the last by Santi Cazorla -- to beat Wigan 4-2 on penalties in this meeting of the fifth-placed teams in the Premier League and League Championship.
Wigan went in front in regular time from the penalty spot. Arsenal defender Per Mertesacker conceded the spot kick that Jordi Gomez converted but the German made amends by heading in the equalizer that sent the game into extra time.
A year after winning its first major trophy by beating Manchester City at Wembley Stadium, Wigan couldn't produce another upset against a Premier League power on the same turf.
Arsenal will discover on Sunday whether it will face Premier League side Hull or third-tier club Sheffield United in the final on May 17.
This is Arsenal's best route to ending a trophy drought stretching to the 2005 FA Cup final that blights the second half of Arsene Wenger's 18-year reign.
There was bad news even before kickoff for Arsenal. The team was still in the dressing room when Everton completed a 1-0 victory at Sunderland to dislodge Arsenal from the fourth Champions League place. By at least matching Arsenal's results in the remaining five games, Everton will end the London club's 16-year run in the Champions League.
What a slump it has been for Wenger's side, having spent so much of the opening months of the season on top of the league. The failure to strengthen the squad in the January transfer window has come back to bite Wenger.
How differently things could have turned out if he had brought in an additional striker. Instead, Wenger on Saturday was relying for goals on 21-year-old striker Yaya Sanogo, who was starting just his fourth game since joining on a free transfer before this season. Olivier Giroud was left on the bench.
Sanogo's lack of cutting edge and pace in front of goal quickly became apparent. The Frenchman was denied by Scott Carson from close range after five minutes and again just before halftime when his unconvincing first touch to control the ball allowed the goalkeeper to thwart the attempt. Carson also rushed off his line at a key moment to prevent Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain getting on the end of Mikel Arteta's throughball.
The second half began as frustratingly for Arsenal and Sanogo, who couldn't latch onto Cazorla's high ball before Carson collected it.
If there was anything to reassure a dreary Arsenal side failing to produce the fluid football Wenger champions, it was Wigan's inability to provide much attacking menace. So Arsenal gifted Wigan the opening to go in front.
Mertesaker slid in with a lunge to cut out Callum McManaman's run and the forward went to ground in the penalty area. After a delay while Arsenal defender Nacho Monreal received treatment elsewhere on the pitch, Gomez, a product of Barcelona's youth system, sent the spot kick beyond the reach of Lukasz Fabianski at full stretch.
The anger among Arsenal fans who have grown accustomed to failure was clear: Jeers greeted Wenger's decision to bring Giroud on, not for Sanogo but Lukas Podolski in the 68th.
The equalizer proved elusive. After Carson's save from Kieran Gibbs' header sent the ball drifting toward the goal, Wigan defender Stephen Crainey scooped the ball off the line.
Wigan's goal was finally breached in the 82nd when it couldn't fully clear a corner and Oxlade-Chamberlain raised the ball over the defense and Mertesacker headed in at the far post.
It was a lucky escape for Arsenal, which had better luck in the shootout.
Fabianski saved Wigan's first two penalties by Gary Caldwell and Jack Collison, while Arteta, Kim Kallstrom, Giroud and Cazorla all netted for the Gunners.
Rob Harris can be followed at www.twitter.com/RobHarris