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Wigan Athletic’s James Perch (left), vies with Arsenal’s Polish-born German striker Lukas Podolski during the English FA Cup Semi-final match between Wigan Athletic and Arsenal at Wembley Stadium in London on April 12. (AFP)
Arsenal on course to end nine-year title drought Fabianski denies Wigan in shootout

LONDON, April 12, (AFP): Lukasz Fabianski saved two penalties as Arsenal beat holders Wigan Athletic 4-2 in a shootout at Wembley on Saturday to reach their first FA Cup final for nine years. Having stunned Manchester City in last season’s final, before being relegated from the Premier League, Wigan looked set for another famous Wembley day when Jordi Gomez put them ahead with a 63rd-minute penalty. But Per Mertesacker made amends for conceding the penalty by heading in an 82nd-minute equaliser and with the score still 1-1 at the end of extra time, Fabianski took centre stage in the shootout. The Pole, usually a deputy to compatriot Wojciech Szczesny, saved Wigan’s two first attempts, from Gary Caldwell and Jack Collison, before Santi Cazorla dispatched the decisive spot-kick to send Arsenal through. Victory took Arsene Wenger’s team into their first FA Cup final since 2005, when they last won a trophy, and helped ease the pain of being knocked out of the Premier League’s top four by Everton earlier in the day.

They will play the winners of Sunday’s second semi-final between Hull City and third-tier Sheffield United. Uwe Rosler’s Wigan, meanwhile, must turn their attentions back to the Championship promotion chase, having been thwarted in their attempt to become only the seventh club to retain the FA Cup. The game was preceded by a minute’s silence in memory of the 96 Liverpool fans killed in the Hillsborough disaster, which occurred during an FA Cup semi-final in Sheffield 25 years ago this weekend. Ninety-six seats were also left empty on the halfway line. Boosted by the return to fitness of Aaron Ramsey, who made his first start since December, Arsenal attacked the game with purpose on a mild, sunny afternoon at the national stadium. Wigan goalkeeper Scott Carson smartly repelled a Yaya Sanogo header and then rushed out to thwart Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, while Bacary Sagna blazed wide from a tight angle after Thomas Vermaelen nodded a corner down.

Wigan were content to mass their ranks behind the ball, but they gradually began to show signs of life in attack. Gomez saw a misdirected cross skim the crossbar, the livewire Callum McManaman fired narrowly over, and Marc-Antoine Fortune forced Fabianski into a near-post save. It was Arsenal who finished the half on top, however, with Sanogo cantering onto a pass from Lukas Podolski, only for his heavy touch to allow Carson to make a save. Wenger’s side continued to monopolise possession early in the second period, but with just under half an hour remaining, Wigan went ahead.

After a weaving run into the box from the right, McManaman was felled by the sliding Mertesacker, and although Fabianski correctly guessed the direction of Gomez’s subsequent penalty, the Spaniard’s shot eluded him. To compound matters for Arsenal, Nacho Monreal had to go off after colliding with McManaman in the build-up to the penalty, with Kieran Gibbs coming on. Olivier Giroud entered the fray in place of Podolski soon after. Arsenal piled forward, Sagna hitting the post with a header and Carson saving brilliantly from Gibbs, before Mertesacker atoned for his earlier error by steaming in to head home a cross-shot from Oxlade-Chamberlain. Wenger’s men continued to force the issue in extra time, with Sanogo drawing a parry from Carson and Oxlade-Chamberlain rattling the crossbar, before Fabianski’s heroics finally saw them home.

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