Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger was delighted to see his side squeak through their FA Cup semi-final clash against Wigan on penalties, in a result which may well have saved the Gunners season – or at least for the time being. With the Premier League title seemingly out of their grasp, their Champions League dreams dead for another season and a place in the Premier League top-four now out of their hands, Wenger won’t have been unaware that salvaging anything out of this season could have been saved with Santi Cazorla’s winning penalty in the shootout.
While Arsenal were coming up against the defending champions in Wigan in their semi-final, the Gunners were still firm favourites with the pre-game odds. But despite being a league above their Championship opponents, it wasn’t too much of a surprise to see Arsenal’s out-of-sorts frontline fail to find a way past Scott Carson in the Wigan goal during the first half and then to see the Premier League side go behind just after the hour mark.
Callim McManaman, who tormented the Arsenal defence all day, was upended in the box by Per Mertesacker to hand Wigan the chance to take the lead from the spot, which Jordi Gomez took to turn Gooners worst nightmares into reality. With the game entering the final 10 minutes, Uwe Rosler’s men looked set to cause another huge FA Cup shock after handling everything their Premier League opponents could throw at them, only for Mertesacker to turn from hero to zero and level with eight minutes left and send the game into extra-time.
Neither side had much left in the additional 30 minutes, ensuring both sides’ hopes were left to the ‘dreaded’ penalty shootout. Lukasz Fabianski, seemingly set to leave the club this summer, may well have saved Arsenal’s season when he kept out Wigan’s first two penalties of the shootout, setting up the chance for Cazorla to calmly slot away the winning penalty and allow Wenger the chance to take a giant sigh of relief.
“It is important that mentally we didn’t go out. You could imagine the consequences of going out, it is quite worrying. I am relieved because there was a big pressure on us,” Wenger said.
While Arsenal were maintaining their hopes of ending a nine-year wait for some silverware, their hopes of continuing their presence in the Champions League was dealt a huge blow following Everton’s seventh Premier League win in a row, taking them two points clear in fourth place. With their FA Cup final place now booked, the Londoners will now focus solely on their Premier League hopes.
While Arsenal’s Champions League hopes may now be out of their hands, Wenger is confident his side will finish the season in the top four if they win their remaining five league games of the year.
“We have now a period where we can concentrate on the Premier League. If we win our games, we will finish in front (of Everton), so for us it is important now to focus on the Premier League.”