Wigan Athletic suffered penalty heartbreak at the hands of Arsenal in an enthralling FA Cup with Budweiser semi-final at Wembley Stadium.
Uwe Rosler’s side went down 4-2 on spot-kicks as Mikel Arteta, Kim Kallstrom, Olivier Giroud and Santi Cazorla all successfully converted for the Gunners.
Gary Caldwell and Jack Collison saw their penalties well saved by Lukasz Fabianski before Jean Beausejour and James McArthur kept the shootout temporarily alive.
Jordi Gomez’s penalty put Latics ahead in normal play before Per Mertesacker equalised eight minutes from time to end Latics’ unbeaten run in the competition at 12 games.
Latics will take heart from a fine battling performance that deserved so much more as they now turn their attentions to their push for promotion from the Sky Bet Championship.
As expected, Rosler made extensive changes from Tuesday’s 1-0 defeat against Millwall with only Scott Carson, Emmerson Boyce, Beausejour and Josh McEachran retaining their places.
Callum McManaman, Gomez and Marc-Antoine Fortune returned to Latics’ attack whilst Stephen Crainey, Ivan Ramis and James Perch came back into the defence.
McArthur replaced Collison in midfield with the West Ham loanee dropping to the bench.
Wenger made four changes to the Gunners side that lost 3-0 at Everton last weekend with Fabianski, Aaron Ramsey, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Yaya Sanogo named in the starting XI.
The North London side were out of the blocks quick and Oxlade-Chamberlain was quick to seize on a loose pass from Ramis before putting too much power on his touch as he looked to latch onto Ramsey’s return pass inside the area.
The Gunners were presented with a golden opportunity to open the scoring on five minutes as the energetic Oxlade-Chamberlain crossed from the right for Sanogo whose header from point-blank range was excellently saved by Carson.
Again, England international Oxlade-Chamberlain latched onto a ball over the top with Carson rushing out to divert behind for a corner as Latics held firm in the opening 15 minutes.
Two Arsenal defenders combined to create the Gunners’ best opportunity of the half hour as Thomas Vermaelen met Cazorla’s header and Bacary Sagna fired over at the far post from close range.
Latics’ first effort on goal came through Gomez as the Spaniard latched onto Fortune’s through ball down the left channel before his left-footed cross went close to deceiving Fabianski in the Gunners’ goal; clipping the bar before going behind.
That chance provided impetus for Rosler’s side to take a foothold on the game and McManaman broke down the right before seeing his cross cleared by Mertesacker with Fortune lurking.
Former Everton youth McManaman, who scored in last year’s semi-final win over Millwall, was Latics’ main threat and he fired narrowly over after latching onto the loose ball following good hold-up play from Fortune.
It was French striker Fortune who was the next to go close for Rosler’s side as McEachran broke from midfield at pace and fed the former West Brom man who forced a smart save from Fabianski at his near post.
Lukas Podolski fired a 25-yard free-kick wide of Carson’s left-hand post after Beausejour was penalised for a late challenge on Oxlade-Chamberlain, five minutes before the break.
Carson, who was excellent in the opening 45 minutes, made a fine save to keep the score level as the interval drew close; Sanogo beat the offside trap for the first time to latch onto Podolski’s through ball but Carson raced out and spread himself well to deny the young French striker.
Latics were again resolute as Arsenal looked to gain the initiative in the opening stages of the second-half and the first chance fell to McArthur as Gomez’s corner dropped to the Scot on the edge of the area but his shot was blocked by Sanogo.
McManaman, who had been outstanding throughout, won Latics the chance to open the scoring as his weaving run drew a late tackle from Mertesacker just inside the area leaving referee Michael Oliver with no choice but to point to the spot.
And Gomez, who had to wait a prolonged period to take his kick with Arsenal defender Nacho Monreal down receiving treatment, stepped up coolly to slot just to the diving Fabianski’s right and send the travelling Latics faithful into elation.
Naturally, Arsenal responded with Giroud introduced almost immediately after Sanogo fired Ramsey’s cross over from the centre of the area.
From the moment Gomez’s spot-kick hit the back of the net, it was all about work rate for Latics and they delivered ten-fold with Crainey making an outstanding last-ditch tackle to deny Sanogo a clean route on goal.
Oxlade-Chamberlain continued to look the Gunners’ most dangerous asset with his stinging 30-yard drive saved well by Carson as the game entered the final quarter-hour.
Arsenal continued to push for a leveller and were inches away from finding it when Oxlade-Chamberlain’s cross was headed against the post by Sagna.
Crainey, who delivered a lion-heart performance at left back, denied the Gunners with a goal-line clearance after Gibbs’ header looked destined for goal.
However, Arsenal levelled from the resulting corner as Latics struggled to clear and Mertesacker snuck in at the back post to nod home.
Substitute Giroud saw his well-struck left-footed drive well saved by Carson down to his left as the Gunners pushed for a winner in the final five minutes.
Mertesacker headed Cazorla’s corner over in the final minute for what would prove to be the final chance of normal time.
Latics had a glorious chance to go ahead in the first half of extra time as substitute Nick Powell latched onto Fortune’s flick-on but fired harmlessly over from 20 yards.
The Gunners then exerted their own early pressure with Ramsey denied by a fine Boyce block and Sanogo inches from converting at the back post.
Carson was again on hand on one of the busiest afternoons of his career to deny Sanogo’s fierce right-foot drive from the corner of the box.
Arsenal were dominant in the opening few minutes of the second-half of extra-time, though Collison went close to edging Latics ahead but he fired wide when well-placed 25 yards from goal.
The Gunners, though, were relentless in their attack and Oxlade-Chamberlain, who proved why he is such a highly-rated footballer across the world, fired against the bar from 25 yards, leaving Carson with no chance.
Latics’ work-rate was reaping rewards as possession continued to be won in the middle of the park and Collison was again presented with a golden chance as a result of the continued endeavour.
Perch found space down the right-hand side and delivered a wonderful cross for the West Ham loanee who headed wide from eight yards when unmarked.
Powell was a danger to the Gunners’ back-line every time he stretched his legs and more good work from McArthur allowed the Manchester United loanee to drive at Mertesacker, though his left-footed strike went comfortably wide of Fabianski’s left-hand post.