Saturday, 12 April 2014

FA Cup Semi-Final, Arsenal vs Wigan: LIVE Commentary:

Hello again everyone and welcome to my latest LIVE Commentary, where I commentate on the first FA Cup semi-final match being played at Wembley, between EPL side Arsenal and Championship club Wigan. 

A quick notice to tell all of my readers that I will have a few more blog posts published in the upcoming week, with hopefully up to FIVE new posts being posted between now and next Saturday. Just a way of apologizing for other content being late in the future, enjoy :)

Both these sides will fancy their chances of winning this game and thus progressing through to the final in May despite the fact that The Gunners will be the favourites to win the match, Wigan are unpredictable and have the title of the "underdog" which allows them to play with freedom and no expectation on their shoulders.

Here are the team line-ups for the game today:

Arsenal: Fabianski, Sagna, Mertesacker, Vermaelen, Monreal, Arteta, Ramsey, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Cazorla, Podolski and Sanogo. 

Subs: Szczesny, Jenkinson, Gibbs, Kallstrom, Akpom, Eisfeld and Giroud. 

Wigan: Carson, Boyce, Ramis, Crainey, Perch, McArthur, Gomez, McEachran, Beausejour, McManaman and Fortune. 

Subs: Al Habsi, Barnett, Caldwell, Maloney, Espinoza, Collison and Powell. 

16:50 - The teams are still preparing for the big game, warming up and getting team talks from the coaches and fellow team-mates.

Preparation: Arsenal and Wigan fans pose for the camera ahead of the big build-up to the game
Just a heads up that the match will start 7 minutes later than originally scheduled, at 5.07pm because of the Hillsborough tragedy in 1989, which was abandoned six minutes into the match. The match will be delayed by those six minutes plus a minutes' silence. 

16:58 - 96 seats have been left purposely empty opposite the players' tunnel and each has been draped in a red Liverpool scarf. 
96 seats have been purposely left empty to respect the Hillsborough disaster, 25 years ago. 
The two teams and match officials will all be wearing black armbands in memory of the vicctims, and the captains will lay wreaths in the technical areas before the silence is held.  

The names of the 96 who died will be visible on the electric display, and a number of the families of the 96 are also in attendance this afternoon.

17:02 - The teams are ready to walk out of the tunnel, and are waiting patiently, looking nervously. Who can blame them? 

17:04 - The teams are out, and they are doing their pre-match routine. 

17:05 - Arsenal will be expected to win the game today, but supporters across the world will be hoping that they have not heard the latest news updates in the league, where Everton have overtaken them into 4th place with a 1-0 win over Sunderland today. Morale will decrease if they've heard that..

Champions League aspirations: Everton won their match in the league earlier against Sunderland, thanks to an own goal
17:07 - The one minute's silence has been observed perfectly, along with a round of applause around the ground. Great atmosphere. 

Respect: Both sets of clubs observed the minute's silence well before the game.
0: The referee has blown his whistle to start the game at Wembley. What a semi-final in store today.
Sanogo starts a big game for Arsenal in strike, can he impress?

1: A half-chance for Arsenal as Oxlade-Chamberlain does well to go on the counter attack before finding Ramsey, who plays in Sanogo back to Chamberlain, who was not expecting Sanogo to touch the ball on the way towards him as Carson comfortably picks up the ball. 

Half-chance: Oxlade-Chamberlain does well to get past the Wigan defence early on.
If Sanogo had left it, Chamberlain probably would have had a big chance then. 

4: Wigan are passing the ball around well, trying to find space and keep Arsenal away from possession because they know that when The Gunners have the ball at their feet, it could spell trouble for the opposition. Positive start for both sides so far.

5: CHANCE! A superb ball by Oxlade-Chamberlain in-behind the Wigan defence sees Sanogo one-on-one with Carson from 8-yards out, the young French striker heads the ball towards goal but the English keeper does well to block the effort.

Power header: Sanogo came close with a header from close range, which was blocked by Carson
Good build-up from Arsenal, Cazorla with a dinked effort over the full-back to Chamberlain, who did well to set up Sanogo, who almost had his first FA Cup goal. 

7: Good sliding challenge from Vermaelen to deny Wigan striker Fortune from getting in-behind him with a possible one-on-one with Fabianski, and he needed to there otherwise Arsenal could have been in trouble. 

10: 10 minutes played so far and Arsenal could be ahead already. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has played well so far and is key on the flanks as The Gunners look to use his pace to their advantage for the opener.

Meanwhile, Aaron Ramsey looks as if he was never injured as he starts his first game in over 3 months since his injury setback, which is an encouraging sign.

Wigan will take heart from the fact that they are not playing badly, but need to stick closer to the man that they are marking and watch the imposing threat of Sanogo and Cazorla as they look to get forward and provide an upset.

13: Arsenal trying to set up a potential chance, passing the ball around the midfield and pushing Wigan back into their half which is risky (if they lose the ball, counter attack is possible)

14: An inviting long ball by Ramsey finds Chamberlain just onside, running towards goal with electric pace, while goalkeeper Carson comes out to pressurise the young forward, and concedes a corner in the process.

15: The resulting corner from Santi Cazorla is headed clear by defender Emerson Boyce as Wigan look for a breather. Sanogo is found offside after an attempted long-ball does not work in Arsenal's favour. 

17: Wigan's game plan could be risky or prove effective in the long run, to stay in the match as long as possible and hit Arsenal on the counter attack and take their chances if they have any.

Manager Uwe Rosler has done well to take Wigan all the way to the semis so far, but can he do one better and make it to the final? 

19: Wigan are now enjoying a spell of possession, after Arteta clips Jordi Gomez and concedes a free-kick from 30 yards out.

21: Unlucky from Calum McManaman, who gets the ball from a short lay-off by Gomez from the free-kick and bursts past Arteta with pace near the by-line but fails to keep the ball in and concedes an Arsenal goal-kick.

Half-chance for Wigan, Fabianski has not been tested as of yet which Rosler will be eager to exploit..

FACT: Lukasz Fabianski has only played 7 first-team matches for Arsenal this season, and the last was the second leg tie against Bayern Munich early last month.

24: Ramsey and Oxlade-Chamberlain combine well together in midfield, but the final ball to Sanogo is lacking because the Frenchman is being tracked well by the Wigan defenders who are trying their best not to give him any space or time when he gets the ball at his feet. 

30: Some scrappy play and half-chances in the last 5 minutes for both sides, before McManaman sprints past Vermaelen on the byline and has an attempted ball into the box blocked well by Mertesacker near Fabianski's goal. 

31: Signs of improvement by Wigan, encouraging signs that they could score soon if they get more men forward when they have possession of the ball.

Arsenal need to get Cazorla on the ball more or push him into the centre of midfield because at the moment he is drifting on the wing and just behind Sanogo, as if he does not have an actual position.

34: Arsenal do well again to create a chance, but it's off target. Good initial defending by McArthur to block Ramsey from crossing the ball into the box, before Chamberlain beats two Wigan players with an impressive run before the ball falls to Sanogo who lashes at the strike, flying over the bar to ironic cheers from the Wigan supporters. 

The Gunners have done well to create chances so far, but need to get more opportunities ON TARGET. The Sanogo chance in the opening minutes was a key highlight, he probably should have scored. 

35: Arsenal's German forward Lukas Podolski is off the pitch clutching his face while receiving treatment from the Arsenal physio, and the side are momentarily down to ten men.

36: Podolski returns to the field of play as Wigan have a set-piece in a dangerous position 25 yards out. 

37: CHANCE! Good initial defending by Sanogo who does well to head the ball clear, before McManaman has another half-chance as he beats Vermaelen for pace before having a strike spin over the bar. Encouraging. 

38: Better from Wigan once more as they press Arsenal's goal, Fortuné does well to shift his body and have a strike towards goal parried away by Fabianski. 

39: Arsenal have a free-kick on the counter attack, 20 yards out after Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain once again looks dangerous on the break, passing the ball out wide before getting bodychecked by Wigan midfielder Beausejour to stop him from continuing his run. 

40: Lukas Podolski takes the strike.... and the shot swerves just wide of Carson's goal as the goalkeeper can only watch in hope. 

42: CHANCE! Arsenal striker Yaya Sanogo does well to run in-behind the Wigan defence after a long ball over the top, but his last touch before shaping to shoot is too heavy and Carson does well to anticipate, coming out to pressure the Frenchman and block the effort. Close but still 0-0.

45: Arsenal with some patient build-up play again in the Wigan half, as the fourth official holds up his electronic board to show only one minute of stoppage time is to be played at the end of the first-half of action at Wembley.

45+1: Cazorla has an attempted corner towards an Arsenal player cleared away well by Boyce, who heads the ball powerfully towards Fortuné. The referee blows his whistle to end the half, as both sets of players walk towards the dressing room. 

An entertaining first-half I must say, as both sides have had a few chances to break the deadlock but neither side has been able to do so. 

The most impressive players on the pitch for me would have to be:

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain - Has been electric throughout so far, a great ball to Sanogo who could have opened the scoring early on, and he has been a constant threat for Wigan who have been unable to contain him, like many teams in the league this season.

It has not been all attack either, he has helped at the back when needed and pressured for the ball when Wigan have had possession, which is an effective quality for a young player to have. The desire to win the ball and push up the field on the counter attack, driving with pace. 

I am prepared to actually say that Oxlade-Chamberlain at his age now is a better player than Walcott was at age 20. 

Aaron Ramsey - He has looked smooth in the first-half, rarely making any mistakes passing-wise and has delivered some inviting crosses and balls into the box for Cazorla, Sanogo and Chamberlain to latch onto. All he needs now is a goal to boost his confidence. Encouraging signs so far.

Calum McManaman - Wigan's best player so far. His pace and close-control dribbling has proved a handful for Arsenal, with Vermaelen and Mertesacker having to track back to try and keep up with him.

He needs support from Fortuné up-top if Wigan are going to score, but he has looked impressive down the flank when he has the ball at his feet. Look out for him.  

HALF-TIME: Arsenal 0 Wigan 0
Half-time at Wembley and Wigan will be happy with their work so far.
Arsenal have had a few chances, but Wigan have pressed well and looked pretty dangerous coming forward too.

You can sense the unease from the 50,000+ Arsenal supporters and it looks to be getting to the team. This game and this trophy means so much to them, the pressure is clear to see. Time will tell whether they can get the result they need or not though.

18:10 - The referee blows his whistle to start the second-half of action at Wembley, with the scoreline still goal-less at the restart. Big 45 minutes ahead for both sides. 

49: Arsenal go again and restart their patient build-up tactic, before Monreal is dispossessed by full-back James Perch (remember him from Newcastle?) on the overlap after a pass from Cazorla and Vermaelen tackles McManaman near the centre circle.

50: Another half-chance for Arsenal, as Cazorla dinks the ball over the top of the Wigan defence and Sanogo is held back by defender Ivan Ramis as he tries to shape to shoot. 

Good defending by Ramis, Sanogo would have been through if he had not blocked his run.

52: Scrappy play in the Arsenal penalty area which results in a corner kick for Wigan as Gomez, McManaman and McArthur all try to drive into the box and take a shot on goal. 

53: Arsenal deal with the impending danger and clear the ball away, as Sanogo tries to unleash Oxlade-Chamberlain on the flank but the ball is too heavy for the young Englishman to get to.

55: Better play from Podolski who runs forward towards the byline before playing in a cross, which is dealt with by Boyce who tracks back to deny Sanogo who was lurking inside the box.

56: This is exactly how Arsenal need to keep the pace and tempo of the game, in control of the ball and letting the ball do the work while they push men forward. 

57: Wigan get brief respite as Carson steps up to take a long free-kick near the corner flag after Ramsey is barged off the ball by Perch before handling the ball (believing that the referee will stop play for a foul, but does not). Foul for handball.

58: PENALTY! Wigan are given a penalty after McManaman drives into the box and is stopped by Mertesacker who slides in harshly and fails to win the ball. 

Late challenge: Mertesacker gave away a penalty after McManaman burst into the area.
Golden opportunity: McManaman was Wigan's best player, and gave the underdogs a penalty
59: Wigan have the opportunity to break the deadlock on the hour mark, tense atmopshere now. But, the penalty will be delayed as Spanish left-back Nacho Monreal is injured down on the turf after a foul in the build-up from McManaman, who held him back.

60: The Arsenal physio come onto the pitch to treat Monreal, who looks in serious pain. 

62: Arsenal SUB:
Nacho Monreal (injury) OFF
Kieran Gibbs ON

63: Jordi Gomez steps up to take the penalty.... and SCORES! Wigan break the deadlock thanks to a cool and composed penalty strike from Gomez. Fabianski went the right way and almost saved the shot, but Gomez hit the ball well into the bottom corner of the net. 

64: Wigan SUB:
Josh McEachran OFF
Jack Collison ON

65: Instant response needed from Arsenal now you feel, if they are to stay in the match and get back into the game. 

66: Substitutes are ready to come on, awaiting a stoppage in play. 

67: And here they come... 
Wigan SUB:
Calum McManaman OFF
Nick Powell ON

Powell (a United loanee) replaces McManaman, who was the reason why Wigan have scored. 

Arsenal SUB:
Lukas Podolski OFF
Olivier Giroud ON

70: Wigan are doing well to hold onto the ball as Arsenal look rattled. Rightly so too, 20 minutes plus stoppage time remain for Arsenal, and you have to feel that this is their only chance of silverware this season.

73: Arsenal have a corner, with Cazorla stepping up to take it. Some encouraging support from The Gunners, who are all tentatively expecting something big from their team in the last 20 minutes.

74: Good save by Scott Carson after a well-drilled strike from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain from 20 yards out.

75: The Gunners push Wigan back into their half as they increase the pressure on The Latics. 

76: The main issue for Arsenal so far is that they have been wasteful with possession and chances today, but they have to realise that they are still in the match and need to score soon otherwise they WILL be knocked out.

77: Free-kick goes Wigan's way after another lacklustre challenge from Arteta, who clips Nick Powell's heels 25 yards out, in a dangerous position. 

Arteta has not played particularly well today, that's an understatement. Every time he's had the ball at his feet he has looked tentative and passed the ball backwards instead of forwards, he has given away a few challenges and has not got the pace to catch up with the Wigan players on the counter attack. 

78: Arsenal attempt to break with Giroud, Ramsey and Sanogo in space, but Jordi Gomez "takes one for the team" and slides in on Giroud harshly. Play continues on the advantage, and the Arsenal move breaks down with Gomez getting a yellow card at the end of it. 

80: Sums up Arsenal's luck in this game. Sanogo hits the woodwark after an inviting delivery from Sagna into the box and Wigan clear.

81: A good save from Steve Carson who does well to block a powerful header from English full-back Kieran Gibbs, who bursts into the box past the defenders and has his header parried away. 

83: GOAL! Arsenal finally equalise and you cannot say that it was not coming. They hit the post, and then had a goal cleared off the line in the last 10 minutes, but it will not be enough.

They push men inside the Wigan area and it pays off as Oxlade-Chamberlain hits the ball down off the ground, bouncing past the Wigan defenders to Mertesacker, who heads the ball past Carson into the bottom corner of the net.   

From bad to good: Mertesacker celebrates his headed equaliser to give Arsenal hope 
86: Wigan SUB:
Ivan Ramis OFF
Gary Caldwell ON

88: Still more pressure from Arsenal as they look for the winning goal, Beausejour clears the ball out for an Arsenal corner and The Gunners' have yet another chance. 

89: Close! Cazorla's corner is well-struck into the box, and Mertesacker towers above the Wigan defence to head towards goal... but his header is over the bar. 

90: The fourth official has signalled for 5 minutes of stoppage time to be added on at the end of the second-half.

3 of those minutes are for Monreal's groin injury delay, just before Wigan scored from the penalty spot. 

90+1: Both sides press for the winner as Arsenal push forward on the counter attack and Wigan win set-pieces in dangerous areas. Who will win?  

90+2: Wigan corner taken by Jordi Gomez is whipped into the box low and hard, but Sanogo heads clear and Arsenal try to move on the break, before Oxlade-Chamberlain is flattened and Arsenal have a free-kick, with a chance to push forward. 

90+4: Just a minute of stoppage time remains for one side to score the winner, otherwise extra time is needed to separate the two teams. 

90+5: The referee blows his whistle to end the 90 minutes at Wembley. Extra time is needed to separate the two sides, a nervous 30 minutes coming up. 

19:05 - The first-half of extra time begins. 30 minutes to follow, it's still too close to call but you'd think that Arsenal have the momentum after Mertesacker's equaliser.

92: Powell has a direct shot towards goal fire over Fabianski's goal as Wigan try to get back into the lead quickly and hold on for a historic victory.

93: Scrappy play again as Arsenal press for another goal, Ramsey weaves his way past two Wigan defenders, avoiding tackles before having an attempted strike blocked before an inviting ball into the box for Sanogo just drifts past the long legs of the young French striker.  

95: Arsenal push men forward as they are desperate for a goal now, Wigan are trying to push them back beyond the centre circle but every time they get the ball, they lose it again. 

97: Good save again from Carson to deny Sanogo from scoring his first Arsenal goal, before an Arsenal corner is partially cleared away and Sanogo does well to have another attempt on goal, this time though going off-target. 

98: Wigan goal-kick to come. Carson will take as long as he wants, it's understandable but frustrating for the Arsenal supporters. 

99: Per Mertesacker does well to deal with the impending danger from young midfielder Nick Powell who runs past him to try and get the ball inside the area, he blocks him off and clears the ball away as Arsenal push forward once more.

100: Wigan are doing well to keep up the pressure on Arsenal when they have the ball, but fatigue and a lack of concentration is starting to creep in from some of the players.

101: Good diving block from full-back James Perch to stop Oxlade-Chamberlain's strike towards goal after Wigan lose possession just outside the box. Good recovery.

103: Wigan have a set-piece 30 yards out after Arteta holds back Gomez, Arsenal clear but the ball comes back into the Arsenal area until Sagna deals with the danger and cleanly tackles Fortuné near the corner flag. 

104: Arsenal happy to keep the ball as they see out the last moments of the first part of extra-time. 

105: The referee blows his whistle to end the first half of extra time in a tense game. If it stays 1-1, the match will go to penalties just to add to the pressure and drama. 

19:21 - Both managers are trying to encourage their team, with Wigan looking as if they will be happy to take penalties. A dangerous game to play, but neither side look like they will score imminently. 

19:22 - The referee blows his whistle to start the second period of extra time, after a very brief break in play. Wenger is looking nervous while Rosler looks calm and composed. 

107: Arsenal have a free-kick near the corner flag, whipped into the box by Cazorla... cleared away by the Wigan defence. 

109: Fabianski rushes out of his goal to try and beat Powell for pace towards the ball on the flank, but when he realises that he is not quick enough to get there, he backtracks into his goal and Arsenal defend the danger well enough to clear. Momentary lapse of nervousness. 

110: CLOSE! Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain drives forward past the Wigan defenders again before striking the ball well towards goal beating goalkeeper Carson who can only dive and hope he gets a touch on the ball. 

Chamberlain's effort was well-struck, and hits the crossbar! Unlucky from the young forward, best player for Arsenal today and my Man Of The Match.
112: Wigan enjoy a spell of ball possession as James Perch holds up play on the flank while waiting for the run of his team-mates.

He sees Fortuné and Collison running upfield and crosses the ball into the box, Collison heads the ball towards goal but Fabianski looks on as the effort goes wide of the post. 

113: Arsenal SUB:
Aaron Ramsey OFF
Kim Kallstróm ON

A smart substitution from Wenger sees Ramsey being replaced by experienced midfielder Kallstróm with just over 5 minutes to play. The last thing Arsenal need right now is another injury, Ramsey playing 120 minutes on his return to first-team football could do just that. Good decision.

115: CLOSE! Nick Powell shows his pace and good dribbling to burst past Vermaelen and hit a shot towards goal, but the strike trickles past Fabianski who is standing on one-knee and goes out for a goal-kick.

117: You can see that some of the players are struggling with cramp, including Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain who has started doing stretches while jogging uncomfortably.

119: Just a minute left of the game, as the cameras show both sets of supporters looking very nervous as the possibility of penalties becomes real.

120: The fourth official signals for one minute of stoppage time to be added on at the end of the match (apart from penalties), with Arsenal pushing men forward trying to score a late, late winner.

120+1: The referee blows his whistle, and penalties are needed. What a dramatic way to end a pulsating game. Still too close to call, Carson has played well today and Fabianski was unlucky not to save Gomez's penalty which gave Wigan the lead earlier on in the second-half.  

Both sets of players are tired and full of cramp, more unpredictability for the penalty shoot-out. If Arsenal lose, Wigan go to the final as the defending champions. 

19:44 - PENALTIES:

Gary Caldwell vs Fabianski - SAVED! Fabianski goes the right way and parries the ball after a powerful strike.

Mikel Arteta vs Carson - GOAL! Arsenal take the lead in the shootout, calmly taken penalty by the Spaniard.

Jack Collison vs Fabianski - SAVED! Fabianski does well again to deny the on-loan West Ham midfielder who places his shot towards goal.

Kim Kallstróm vs Carson - GOAL! Another calmly taken penalty, this time from Arsenal's new addition and Swedish midfielder who slots the ball into the bottom corner.

Jean Beausejour vs Fabianski - GOAL! Nicely taken, sends Fabianski the wrong way. Top class finish.

Olivier Giroud vs Carson - GOAL! Finesse from the French striker Giroud who sends Carson the wrong way to make it 3-1.

James McArthur vs Fabianski - GOAL! McArthur makes it 3-2 after a cooly taken slot, sending the Polish keeper the wrong way.

Santi Cazorla vs Carson - GOAL! Cazorla scores the winning penalty to send Arsenal to the FA Cup final!!

A tense finale to a great game, which Arsenal have somehow pulled out to progress to the final, where they will play either Sheffield United or Hull City.. Wigan will feel hard done by that they were unable to win but should take heart from the fact that they narrowly lost a game which could have gone either way throughout and was too close to call.

Arsenal need to realise that they need to be more clinical with their chances because there were 3 or 4 clear goal-scoring opportunities that they failed to convert, but they now need to focus on getting the best possible league finish in-time for a cup final at Wembley in a months' time.