Per Mertesacker restored parity minutes before the final whistle after Jordi Gomez’s spot kick had given the Latics a shock lead just after the hour. However it was Lukasz Fabianski who was the hero on the day, saving two crucial penalties in the shootout as the Gunners prevailed to keep their hopes alive of ending eight barren years without silverware.
Here are the five observations from Wembley:
1. Arsenal struggle against tactically flexible teams:
Wigan started in their conventional 3-4-3 system as the Gunners looked seriously incompetent in the first exchanges, barring Yaya Sanogo’s timid effort on goal.
The Latics had a meticulously well prepared game plan. Callum McManaman would try to isolate Thomas Vermaelen when possible providing cutbacks for striker Marc Antoine Fortune or an incoming midfielder. Micheal Cox of the Guardian had thrown enough light on how the Belgian was constantly harassed by Romeu Lukaku in Everton’s 3-0 win over the Gunners last week.
The above snap documents how Wigan effectively ran in between the channels so that the man on the ball always has enough options to pass to a team mate.
2. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain stands out yet again:
It was a cagey game till the end with neither side willing to grab the game by the scruff of the neck. Arsenal looked quite complacent as the match wore on with only Oxlade-Chamberlain being the shining light for the Gunners.
The 20 year old said that he desperately wants to end Arsenal’s trophy drought, and impressed throughout the match with his direct runs in Wigan’s territory.
As the snap shows that he was unlucky not to find any good targets with his passing layoffs as Wigan’s “banks of threes” closed down the spaces with great aplomb.
3. Mikel Arteta isn’t the solution to Arsenal’s problems in the middle:
The Spaniard had 90 touches in the match and had a passing accuracy of 89% according to Whoscored.com.
However his sideways and backward passing coupled with zero pressing on the opposition slows down the tempo as Arsenal’s creative imagination looked pedestrian throughout the encounter. No doubt Roy Keane was livid with Arteta at half time.
Keane at HT “Arteta’s driving me crazy. He passes the ball sideways, backwards, you have to pass the ball forwards” pic.twitter.com/HbxgCicaMo
— ITV Football (@itvfootball) April 12, 2014
If Wenger is to realistically challenge for the title next season, a solid central defensive midfielder must be one of his top prioritysignings in the summer.
4. Do Arsenal offer more threat with two strikers up front:
Yaya Sanogo started for the Gunners and the young Frenchman should have given Arsenal the lead if not for his timid effort early on.
As Wenger brought on Olivier Giroud in the second half, it was surprising to see Wenger abandon his philosophy of playing a lone striker up front (the last 4-4-2 being Bergkamp and Henry in 2004).
The two French strikers effectively ran in between the channels to give Wigan a constant threat in the final third. Sanogo’s game went up an extra gear after Giroud’s introduction as it shows Arsenal might be better off playing two strikers up front.
5. Heartbreak for Wigan, but Arsenal weren’t the better team:
It was a cagey affair till the end and credit goes to Wigan to how they approached the clash, with meticulous planning keeping Arsenal at bay for 82 minutes.
Uwe Rosler has impressively picked up Roberto Martinez’s 3-4-3 system after taking over in the summer. Wigan upstaged Cardiff, Crystal Palace and, the most notable of them, Manchester City, proving that the Latics are more than capable of enforcing their own passing style and have players who are comfortable on the ball.
Wigan deserve great credit. Such a draining season: 46(49?)-game lg + Europa + LC + Com Shield + FA Cup run. And take Arsenal to 120 mins…
— Michael Cox (@Zonal_Marking) April 12, 2014
For Arsene Wenger, Arsenal’s FA Cup final berth its a huge chance to end the trophy drought of eight long years. But given Arsenal will have to up their game for the showpiece in May, with Wigan coming mightily close to causing an upset.
What do you think? Can Arsenal win the cup? Let me know in the comments below…