Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger admits he was worried what defeat to Wigan in Saturday’s FA Cup semi-final at Wembley could have done after watching his side come through the high drama of a penalty shoot-out.
Stand-in goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski was the hero as his two saves helped Arsenal beat the holders 4-2 to reach their first FA Cup final since 2005.
After a bright start by Arsenal, it was Wigan who went ahead through a penalty from Jordi Gomez just after the hour.
However the Gunners made it 1-1 with seven minutes left through Per Mertesacker, whose foul had given away the spot-kick.
After Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain had hit the crossbar in extra-time, it was down to penalties.
Fabianski – standing in again for regular number one Wojciech Szczesny – produced fine saves from Gary Caldwell and Jack Collison, before Santi Cazorla rolled in the winning spot-kick.
The relief was clear for all to see, as Wenger punched the air and the Arsenal players rolled around in a joyous heap on the Wembley turf, their 50,000 fans in delirium.
Earlier in the afternoon, Everton‘s win over Sunderland had pushed Arsenal out of the top four of the Barclays Premier League, and Wenger – who has yet to agree a contract extension past the end of the season – was all too aware of the impact of another morale-sapping defeat.
“It is important that mentally we didn’t go out. You could imagine the consequences of going out, it is quite worrying,” the Frenchman said.
“I am relieved because there was a big pressure on us.
“I expected a difficult game and I was not disappointed.
“Wigan were impressive, well organised, physically very strong, calm when they had the ball.
“They played very well and showed why they knocked Man City out in the quarter-finals.
“We had everything a little bit against us for a while in the game. We needed to show some character, resilience and some nerves and we did it in a very united and resilient way.
“That was the most pleasing aspect because everyone expected us on that front.
“Even if we had lost, I would have said we had the mental level that I expected, and hopefully that win today will give us a lift for the end of the season.”
Wenger hailed the professionalism of Fabianski, who is set to leave the Emirates Stadium in the summer when his contract expires.
“Fabianski did very well. He is a good goalkeeper, he showed that again today,” the Arsenal manager said.
“During the game, even with the penalty they scored, he went on the right side. He is quick. In the penalties he put us in a good position.”
Wenger remains confident Arsenal can now go on to finish the campaign in style.
“If we win our games, we will finish in front (of Everton), so for us it is important now to focus on the Premier League,” he said.
“If we do that well I am confident we will come back, and on top of that we have a target now for the end of the season – the FA Cup final.
“We have now a period where we can concentrate on the Premier League.”