Arsenal reached the FA Cup final by ending second-tier Wigan’s impressive title defense in a penalty shootout at Wembley Stadium, making up for the disappointment of dropping out of the Premier League’s top four earlier Saturday.
After needing an 82nd-minute goal by Per Mertesacker to force extra time at 1-1, Arsenal won the shootout 4-2 to keep alive its chances of capturing a first piece of major silverware since 2005.
”We have been struggling in recent weeks but you have to deal with that,” said Arsenal midfielder Kim Kallstrom, who scored the second of Arsenal’s four straight successful penalties. ”Hopefully, it’s a great boost of confidence for the rest of the season.”
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Hull plays Sheffield United in the second semifinal on Sunday.
When Jordi Gomez put Wigan ahead from the penalty spot in the 63rd, it threatened to be a disastrous day for Arsenal, which was replaced in fourth spot in the league by Everton thanks to its 1-0 win at bottom-placed Sunderland.
While Sunderland looks doomed – seven points from safety with six games left – the race to avoid the other two relegation spots heated up after huge wins for Fulham and Cardiff, who stayed in the bottom three but closed the gap to their rivals.
Third-bottom Fulham beat fourth-bottom Norwich 1-0 and next-to-last Cardiff surprisingly won 1-0 at Southampton, while Aston Villa is only four points from the bottom three after losing 1-0 at Crystal Palace thanks to in-form Jason Puncheon’s goal. Just eight points separates the nine teams above Sunderland.
Sixth-place Tottenham came from 3-0 down after 31 minutes to draw 3-3 at West Bromwich Albion thanks to Christian Eriksen’s injury-time equalizer, although two dropped points dents the visitors’ already faint hopes of Champions League football next season.
Newcastle’s slump accelerated with a 1-0 home loss to Stoke in the day’s other game.
It was an emotionally charged day in English football, with every league and cup match starting seven minutes later than originally scheduled to mark the 25th anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster, in which 96 Liverpool fans died in a crush in the stands during an FA Cup semifinal against Nottingham Forest.
That fateful match was abandoned after six minutes, and there was a minute’s silence around the country’s football grounds before kickoffs on Saturday. At Wembley, 96 seats remained empty near the halfway line for the Wigan-Arsenal match, with just a Liverpool scarf draped over each of them.
Wigan – looking to become the first team in 34 years to win the FA Cup while playing in the second tier – again rose to the big occasion, like it did in beating Manchester City in last year’s final and again in this season’s quarterfinals.
Another shock was on when Gomez converted from the spot after Mertesacker brought down Callum McManaman. Only then did Arsenal start to look energized and the Germany defender redeemed himself by heading in the equalizer just as Arsenal fans were starting to despair.
Wigan was always up against it in the shootout after Gary Caldwell and Jack Collison had the team’s first two attempts saved by Lukasz Fabianski. And Mikel Arteta, Kallstrom, Olivier Giroud and Santi Cazorla made no mistake to give Arsenal the chance to win an 11th FA Cup.
Arsenal’s other task in the final month of the season is overhauling Everton in the league, with the Merseyside club continuing its fine run of results to climb two points above Wenger’s side.
Everton’s display at Sunderland wasn’t as fulsome as in the 3-0 win over Arsenal last weekend, but the team passed up a string of good chances – two of which fell to Steven Naismith – before Sunderland defender Wes Brown unwittingly turned Gerard Deulofeu’s cross past goalkeeper Vito Mannone.
Tottenham is now six points behind Everton, having played a game more, but showed great spirit in a stirring comeback at The Hawthorns, completed when Eriksen drove a rising shot into the net in the fourth minute of stoppage time.
The recovery looked unlikely after goals by Matej Vydra and Chris Brunt inside four minutes and a third by Stephane Sessegnon put West Brom 3-0 ahead with barely a half hour gone.
Jonas Olsson’s own goal reduced the deficit in the 34th and Harry Kane’s 70th-minute header gave Tottenham further hope, before Eriksen’s late goal left the team three points ahead of Manchester United in the chase for a Europa League berth.