Arsenal avoid upset loss to Reading, advance to FA Cup final
The FA Cup holders needed extra time to do it, but in the end Arsenal saw off a plucky Reading side in Saturday’s semifinal 2-1 thanks to a brace from Alexis Sanchez — and one horrible goalkeeping mistake from Adam Federici. Arsenal now await the winner of Sunday’s second semifinal match between Aston Villa and Liverpool (live, FOX Sports 1, 9:30 a.m. ET) in the final of this year’s FA Cup.
Sanchez scored the winner in the 105th minute, just on the stroke of halftime in the additional period. His shot to the near post was weak, but somehow the ball crept through Federici’s legs, and the keeper was not able to get back and pull the ball out of his own net.
"It was a difficult game against a well organized, resilient, committed and physically strong Reading team," Wenger said after the victory "They really wanted it Reading, they were willing to die on the pitch to go to the final and you have to congratulate them for the effort they put in. In the end, we were a bit lucky because their keeper made a mistake and I can understand that he is distraught, but as well he kept them in the game for long periods."
It was particularly cruel on Federici as he had been brilliant throughout the match, making two key saves to put the match into extra time in the first place. But Reading, despite showing some grit and determination, never looked as if they could grab the go-ahead goal; their lone strike of the match was due in part to a horrid error by Arsenal keeper Wojciech Szczesny, and came completely against the run of play.
Arsenal have a habit of making things more difficult than they need to be, and while they coasted for long stretches of the first half, after Sanchez scored the opener in the 39th, they looked far too confident and blasé
Sanchez opened the scoring, firing through Federici after a fine bit of play from playmaker Mesut Ozil. Ozil whipped in a ball from about 40 yards out over the Reading backline, and Sanchez took a touch to settle then put the ball low and hard to the near post. The tempo noticeably dropped after that goal and when both teams returned after the break, the Gunners looked like a team that was just trying to kill as much clock as possible.
But Reading got back in the match on a play out of nothing. Pavel Pogrebnyak put a fine cross in to Garath McCauley, but his weak shot took a cut off Kieran Gibbs. Szczesny, who had been dropped as Arsenal’s first-choice keeper after a series of poor games, went down too early, and with the ball spinning off his laces, tossed it up into the air and over the line.
Arsenal began their comeback, with substitute Gabriel forcing Federici to tip a sharp, free header onto his own crossbar and away. Gabriel would have another free header minutes later, off service from Ozil, but this time he missed the target entirely.
Aaron Ramsey then rounded Federici, but from an acute angle and with Alex Pearce draped all over him, hit the post when it might have been easier to ruffle the net. The post would also stop Olivier Giroud in stoppage time.
Reading had a glimmer of hope when Pogrebnyak broke free, but Gabriel did well to marshal him away from the goal, forcing him into a tepid shot that was easy for Sczcesny. From then on, Arsenal simply saw the game out. Federici’s gaffe had deflated not only his teammates but Reading’s supporters and as the sun set over Wembley, so did the Royals’ cup dreams.
Whether or not you view this result as a great escape or a let-off might depend upon which London side you support. The fact remains that despite not looking entirely convincing, Arsenal have continued to grind out results. On Saturday, they saw three chances come back off the woodwork, and conceded only thanks to poor judgment from their backup keeper. Their title defense rolls on.
"Now, let’s focus on our next game, we come back here in the final, but we have time to prepare," Wenger added. "The final is a 50-50 (game). If we can beat the record we will be very happy. Let’s hope we have all of our players available and come back in good shape."
The feeling wasn’t the same across the lockeroom.
"I am disappointed because I know that not many people outside our dressing room believed me when I said I thought we would win," Reading boss Steve Clarke said after the match.
"Our performance showed why I had that belief, the players got the tactics spot on, we came here and had a good. There were stages in the game where we were the better team, which is an achievement against as good a side as Arsenal. The fans can all go home proud of their team’s performance today, which shows you the potential of Reading Football Club."