Reading 1 (McCleary 54) – Arsenal 2 (Sanchez 39, 106)
Man of the Match – Alexis Sanchez (Arsenal)
It was a sneaky evening as Arsenal sneaked past Championship side Reading to sneak into their second successive FA Cup Final in really sneaky fashion. With pundits and fans alike predicting a runaway win for in-form Arsenal, Reading put up an impressive fight, akin to Wigan last season. But, Arsenal managed to win the game in extra time, rather than take it to penalties, where we all know, it’s a lottery.
Arsene Wenger rung in the changes, with Wojciech Szczesny returning in place of David Ospina, Kieran Gibbs reclaiming his left-back spot from Nacho Monreal, Danny Welbeck in place of Olivier Giroud, and the returning Mathieu Debuchy instead of Hector Bellerin. Debuchy, who returns after a lengthy spell on the sidelines, since he was banjaxed intentionally by Stoke City’s Marko Arnautovic.
Reading, surprisingly had the brighter start of the two, with Arsenal coming into their flow a few minutes in. Danny Welbeck raced on to a loose ball, after a defender failed to clear it, but the England striker couldn’t latch on to it. In the 7th minute, came Arsenal’s first real chance. Per Mertesacker’s header on to the near post from a Mesut Ozil corner, required Australian international keeper Adam Federici to be at his best to deny the German.
Reading winger Jordan Obita then forced Szczesny into a save, before a shot deflected off Mertesacker following a free kick. In the 18th minute, Danny Welbeck was fouled, and Mesut Ozil’s resultant free-kick went just wide. Welbeck then set up Santi Cazorla, but the Spaniard’s effort went over. Mathieu Debuchy, who showed some signs of rustiness, put in a cross for Alexis, but the Chilean’s header was weak and easily saved by Federici. He was set up again, this time by Cazorla, but couldn’t poke the ball past an onrushing Federici.
Reading managed to score, but it was rightly called back for offside, following a Szczesny save, which saw Koscielny go down injured. Reading’s compact defending and general work rate made it hard for Arsenal to break down their opponents. However, in the 40th minute, Arsenal found the goal they were looking for. Mesut Ozil spotted Alexis darting into the box, and played it perfectly into him. Alexis took a touch, cut into a defender, and dispatched the ball into the net, from under Federici’s legs. Sneaky.
Arsenal went into the break with a sneaky 1-0 advantage. And there were no changes sneaked in by either side at half time. Arsenal created the first chance after the break, when a Cazorla free kick struck Mertesacker on his back and drifted narrowly wide. After that chance, Reading seemed like a completely different side, as they started dominating possession, and even created some dangerous chances.
And, in the 54th minute, Arsenal became Arsenal. A cross came in from Mathieu Debuchy’s flank, and Arsenal’s defenders just let it get to Reading winger Garath McCleary, whose effort deflected off Kieran Gibbs on it’s way to cross the line. Szczesny managed to hold it, but Reading were already celebrating. He could have probably saved, hadn’t the deflection come in from Gibbs.
Arsenal were forced into a change, when Per Mertesacker had to be replaced by Gabriel Paulista, following a nasty challenge. Reading could have had a penalty, when the ball struck the arm of Debuchy, but the referee refused to give it. Arsenal had a narrow escape. Reading were defending with full vigor, and Arsenal were struggling to find that moment of magic to break down their Championship opponents.
Federici was keeping the Gunners at bay, and a header from Gabriel, which seemed destined to be going in, was somehow palmed away. Arsene Wenger decided to replace Danny Welbeck, with Olivier Giroud. Gabriel got another chance to score again, when an Ozil free kick came right at the Brazilian’s head, but the effort was wayward, and went over the bar.
Both sides were now looking for the winner, when it began to look like the next goal would win the game. Russian striker Pavel Pogrebnyak and Mesut Ozil, both had chances, but failed to score. Szczesny had a tougher afternoon than the one he had expected, as he was called off to make two vital saves. Arsenal had a massive chance, in the 84th minute, with Aaron Ramsey being released through on goal, but his first effort was blocked and his second effort struck the post with little angle to work from.
Arsenal fans had their hearts in their mouths, when Pogrebnyak completely wasted a one-on-one chance. And, further misses from Ramsey and Giroud meant that there would be more football to seperate the two sides. A Cazorla effort went over the bar, with Reading looking to provide as little space and time to Arsenal, as possible. The Royals clearly wanted to take the game to penalties.
This forced the manager to bring on the pace of Theo Walcott on, for the solidity and composure of Francis Coquelin. In the 103rd minute, an Aaron Ramsey shot came in low at Federici, and it struck the keeper, before creeping up over the bar. The Australian, however, couldn’t stop Arsenal from going into the lead just seconds later.
The Gunners crafted a move on their left, and the ball fell to Alexis, whose effort sneaked in from inside Federici’s grasp, through his legs, to end up in the back of the net. It was heartbreaking for the keeper, but Arsenal fans didn’t care, as pandemonium erupted among the Gunners’ faithful.
Reading were now looking for an equalizer, and Jamie Mackie shot over the bar, before Mesut Ozil’s shot went wide. Szczesny then made a vital punch from a freekick, and then Olivier Giroud too struck the post in the 112th minute. Reading tried their best, but Arsenal held out and sneaked into the FA Cup final for a second successive season.
It was not a great performance, nor was it a good performance, against a side, struggling in the Championship. But, Arsenal managed to cross over the line and seal a spot for the May 30th final at Wembley! That should keep us going for a while.
Jai Arsenal 🙂
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