A helter skelter match ended on penalties after full time and extra time couldn’t separate the Arsenal from the conquerors of Manchester City in the previous round, when Fabianski held his nerve to save the first two of five penalties so that four successful spot kicks from the good guys were enough to book a return trip to Wembley in May.
After a gap of over fourteen years between my last visit to Wembley to see Arsenal play and today I was hoping to see a victory for the Arsenal and although the build up to the game in the media and the Arsenal blogosphere ensured nerves kicked in a few pints at Mannion’s pub near the south entrance to Wembley helped settle those nerves.
Also plenty of Arsenal songs, not fit for a family blog, ensured a degree of alcohol induced bravado stayed with me till I took my seat in the upper tier behind the south goal, to the right of the managers dug outs.
As expected Wigan failed to sell their quota of tickets and many pockets/blocks of empty seats were visible in the Wigan end
Before kick off was the moments silence, although I heard applause also, to commemorate the tragic loss of life at an FA Cup semi final 25 years ago at Hillsboro, with 96 seats(to remember the 96 fatalities that day) kept empty.
The line up changes that were most significant were the addition of Rambo and Monreal (with the latter stepping in for Gibbs who was only fit enough for a bench place) and the replacement of Sanogo for Giroud, as seems to be the case for the FA Cup team selection with Fabianski the designated cup goalie.
From the start it was clear that Wigan’s form was on the up and Arsenal’s spluttering with no Arsenal player really catching the eye in the first half, except for flashes of Rambo’s tenacious drive with the ball when surging through the midfield. It was obvious the team have badly missed his forward motion in the midfield as without him it all looks very pedestrian, as several moans about our slow paced attacking attested to amongst the Arsenal supporters.
Something that did come across was that moaning about the team is not an age related thing or the preserve of the “I want it now” generation of youngsters. A pensioner next to me was totally negative all the way through the game and had decided we’d lose after seeing only ten minutes of the game; needless to say not one word of encouragement or singing for the team left his lips all the way through the game.
While Arsenal did create chances in the first half not too many clear cut chances were made, except for the cross that led to Sagna’s sliced shot over the bar, Wigan themselves looked hard working but not especially dangerous.
At the start of the second half as usual the boys in red and white upped the tempo and more free kicks corners accrued from the Ox who was growing in confidence or Santi who had seemed subdued in the first half.
It started to look like it could be one of “those days” when either the woodwork or a bit of good goal keeping was bound to keep the shots out when Arsenal appeared certain to score.
Inevitably a bit of controversy arrived to gift Wigan a goal, a foul on Monreal was not given and with the Arsenal players expecting a stop in play Wigan took advantage of the hesitancy to push into the penalty box and lead to the BFG making a penalty kick worthy challenge.
Indignation swept through the red end of Wembley due to frustration at the referee for not blowing for the foul or the injury and also slight annoyance at Wigan for not having kicked the ball out.
Monreal was taken off injured to be replaced by Gibbs and then eventually Gomez took a virtually unstoppable penalty, which Fabianski came close to keeping out, 1 nil to the Championship team.
As seems to be the case nowadays the Arsenal support is schizophrenic in that anger and dejection at the penalty was replaced by cheers at the restart trying to pick up the spirits of the players. However the jeers quickly returned when the Pod was subbed off when everyone thought the exasperating Sanogo would make way. The Pod had a quiet game while Sanogo seemed to show touches of skill which made you think “Where did that come from?” and then clumsy touches that would be maddening.
Olly came on and was greeted with, to the tune of the Van Judas “She said..” song:
“She said yes Giroud, she said yes”
While it’s hard to say he’s a top line striker it was immediately obvious Olly was better than Sanogo and his hold up play and flicks was leading to more and more dangerous attacks, including a header off the crossbar.
Finally a ball launched into the Wigan penalty area was diverted towards the BFG who bundled the ball into the net and atoned for his earlier penalty kick inducing mistake.
The relief was such that even the moaning pensioner stopped cursing he team although what he thought of my “F**k you Wigan” chant while the BFG celebrated in the goal in front of me, I’d rather not know.
Wigan heads dropped and they held on till full time despite Arsenal pushing for the winner in normal time, the Ox hitting the post and an acrobatic mid air goal line clearance from a Wigan defender when the red end were about to cheer the Gunner’s second goal.
Annoyingly the referee blew for full time just when Olly was through and appeared to be held back by a Wigan defender which, if it had been an arsenal player doing the holding back, would have been a red for a professional foul.
Nonetheless the momentum was still with Arsenal and for both halves of injury time it was mainly Arsenal attacking, with Källström almost scoring with his first touch.
As with his appearance against Swansea Kim seems to have something about him that showed today also, a strength and precision in midfield that is probably what we need right now when, Flamini aside, our midfield is a tad lightweight and powder puff.
Wigan held on and the spectre of penalties came, the news that they would be taken in front of the Wigan end(the majority of photographers had been stationed at my end as it was the end Arsenal attacked and they scurried round the pitch to get to the other end) were greeted with moans of:
“We can’t even win the toss for the penalties!”
Beneath the raging tension in me I felt deep down there was a smidgen of hope in the calmness and authority Fabianski had shown in the game so far; an inkling that he could be the hero of the moment.
The Championship side took the first penalty and although I was not a great penalty it still had to be saved, the Wigan player sinking to the ground in defeat, something even I could see from the other end of the stadium.
First up for the good guys was Arteta, who was coolness personified with a regulation, text book penalty.
Wigan again tried to score in the shoot out and failed again, a slightly better Fabianski save this time and the Arsenal support dared to hope again.
Källström converted our second penalty with the minimum of fuss and pressure was back on Wigan who finally managed to notch a successful spot kick.
Even though Olly’s successful spot kick was preceded by a second successful Wigan kick all it needed was for Arsenal’s fourth penalty to go in and it would be all over
Up stepped Santi, he scored then scurried to the corner to celebrate with the team, out of relief more than anything and only then could Arsenal supporters in Wembley breathe again.
An incredibly hard fought game ended with the Gunners victorious and a date at Wembley in May meant we can now sing the following in earnest:
“What did she wear ?
She wore, she wore,
She wore a yellow ribbon,
She wore a yellow ribbon,
In the merry month of May!
And when, I asked,
Oh why she wore that ribbon,
She said it’s for The Arsenal,
And we’re going to Wembley!
We’re the famous Arsenal,
And we’re going to Wembley!”
By 17th of May with more injured players returning, especially Özzy, and Rambo getting back to his best we can expect a better performance than today with confidence also returning bit by bit.
By ChärybdÏß1966 (on Twitter @charybdis1966)