Arsenal 1-1 Wigan Athletic (4-2 PKs): We're the Famous Arsenal and We're Going to Wembley (Again) !

(Sorry for the delay, folks. This weekend got away from me!)

Eight minutes.

That is how far away we were from the precipice of another lost season. That is how fine the margins are at the highest levels of the game. That is how close we were to confirming that our trophy drought would reach double-digit years. Instead, as I write this, we have a date with Hull City at Wembley on May 17 to put paid to those demons once and for all.

But, man, did it look like we weren't going to get there for long stretches of the game. Despite my overly-breezy 4-1 pre-match prediction, Wigan were compact and fought their asses off. You could see how they dispatched the oil-rich might of Manchester City in last season's final and this term's quarterfinal.

As for us, Arsene sprung a few surprises in the starting XI. We knew that Lukasz Fabianski would continue as the cup keeper, but of the two shockers I don't know what scared me more - Yaya Sanogo preferred up front to the clearly knackered Olivier Giroud, or Nacho Monreal continuing at left back despite Kieran Gibbs passing a late fitness test.

The key man for us was Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, though. We have sorely lacked pace and directness for much of this season, a failing which would plague us for much of the day as well. The Ox, on the other hand, tormented the Latics from the opening whistle. Five minutes in, he rampaged down the right and sent in a brilliant cross. Unfortunately, it was Sanogo on the end of it - the raw rookie only able to head tamely at Athletic keeper Scott Carson.

How important a goal would have been there. Instead, Wigan hauled themselves back into the match and soon were comfortable in defense. As soon as that happened, we were right back to the usual - tippy-tappy around the penalty area in slow motion without ever looking like finding a way through. You can set your bloody watch to it. The rare times we ever looked like threatening, we ended up with things like Sanogo getting the ball tangled up in his feet like he was a newborn foal. I don't mean to keep bagging on him - he tries hard and all. I just find it ridiculous that we're in the position where had to play a game of this magnitude.

Now it's going to seem like I'm piling on, but at the stroke of halftime we again could have taken the lead had we had a legitimate top-level striker on the end of a chance. The otherwise-anonymous Lukas Podolski galloped down the left and played a perfect defense-splitting pass. Sanogo ran onto it well, but his first touch sent it miles ahead of him, and Carson was able to clean up.

The second half began much as the first did, Arsenal listlessly "attacking" but never in a manner that threatened the holders. Then, out of nowhere, Wigan were ahead thanks to the gaping chest wound in our defense. A nothing play down our left saw the tissue-paper soft Monreal give away the ball and then go down injured. To be fair to our opponents, they took advantage as Callum McManaman stormed into our penalty area. Per Mertesacker was forced into a desperate sliding challenge, got the timing wrong, and ended up scything the man down. It was a clear penalty, which Jordi Gomez easily struck past Fabianski.

There will be those who blame the BFG for that, but that was Monreal's fault all the way. He's absolutely horrendous, and I will keep beating that drum as long as he plays for us. Anyway, Gibbs came on for him and the Latics barely ever threatened again. I decline to believe that this is a coincidence.

Anyway, once again, the offensive subs were belated in arriving, but then again, there wasn't much on the bench that could help. I mean, really, Thomas Eisfeld on the bench in a FA Cup Semifinal? Are you serious? Giroud was the only option, and it wasn't the green-as-grass Sanogo who came off, but Podolski. It's true that he hadn't done much, but come on! Wigan were not interested in attacking, and Sanogo was offering nothing. It was the latest in the string of bizarre substitutions from the manager.

Still, just having two strikers (if we're being fair, it was actually something of a Plan B for once) saw us immediately look more dangerous. The Ox tested Carson from range, Sagna hit the post off a header, and Gibbs forced the keeper into a brilliant save. Wigan were reeling, and sure enough it wasn't too long before Arsenal had the equalizer. Off a corner, the ball came out to the Ox, who sent it back in. Who was there to turn it in? None other than the man who conceded the penalty, the Big Fucking German, Per Mertesacker. The pub went absolutely berserk. I can't say I remember the goal itself, but I do remember the jumping screaming pogoing madness. Incredible scenes.

The Arsenal couldn't find that one game-winning moment to end it in normal time, meaning an already-exhausted and injury-plagued lot now had to play 30 more minutes. It showed, too, as both sides barely created anything in the extra period. As it reached the end of that time though, either side could of won it. Bacary Sagna had to be alert to cover for Fabianski when we went walkabout well off his line (the one mistake the Pole made all day), while the Ox hit a thunderbolt that caromed off the angle between post and crossbar. That was three posts hit on the day - rotten luck, really.

So, penalties.

While I loathe them as a way to decide a tie of this magnitude, I also fully understand that you can't have a million replays these days, either. Speaking of, yet more fixtures would be the last thing this Arsenal side need anyway.

Wigan went first, former Celtic man Gary Caldwell taking it. Though a central defender, he's no mug at spot-kicks - he took quite a few important ones for the Bhoys in Champions League games and all that. But, Fabianski guessed right and firmly parried away. Advantage, Arsenal.

Our normal PK taker, Mikel Arteta, sent Carson the wrong way. A lovely start, but one that got even better when Jack Collison's tame effort was easily beaten away by Fabianski.

The next one was huge - score this, it's 2-0 and Wigan have it all to do. Carson did everything he could to put off Kim Kallstrom, hopping around the goal line like a loon. It didn't matter. The Swede went right down the middle, Carson having already begun his dive.

Three penalty saves would probably have been too much to hope for, as Jean Beausejour and Olivier Giroud traded successful spot kicks. Say what you will about the HFB, but he took his penalty with aplomb. James McArthur took their fourth, and also buried it. You know, I just realized, but isn't it odd that Gomez - the guy who took the penalty in the actual game - never took one in the shootout? Maybe he was the designated 5th, but even so I think the strategy always has to be to put your best shooters out first, get points on the board, and hope the other side misses.

Anyway, it was Santi Cazorla to take the fourth. If he scored, we won. Like Kallstrom, he sent it down the middle, Carson dove out of the way, and our place was secure in the final.

Needless to say, it wasn't pretty and it damn sure wasn't enjoyable for long stretches. But, we're there, and that's all that matters. Now let's kick on, get 4th place, and hopefully send the boss into retirement with the FA Cup in his possession to go with his magic hat.

The Modern Gooner Player Ratings:

Fabianski 8, Monreal 4 (Gibbs 7), Vermaelen 7, Mertesacker 7, Sagna 8, Arteta 7, Ramsey 7, Podolski 6 (Giroud 7), Cazorla 7, Oxlade-Chamberlain 8 (Kallstrom 7), Sanogo 5

Man of the Match: Ox has a huge argument, but for me it has to be the penalty savior, Lukasz Fabianski. He surely has to play in the final.