Alexis double fires Gunners to FA Cup Final
Alexis double fires Gunners to FA Cup Final

Arsenal needed extra-time to overcome Reading 2-1 in the FA Cup semi-final at Wembley yesterday.

Two goals from Alexis Sanchez mean that the Gunners will be back at Wembley in May to take on either Liverpool or Aston Villa.

For the second year in a row, the Gunners made hard work of beating Championship opposition.

This time Alexis second goal at the end of the first period of extra time was enough to see off the spirited challenge from Reading.

When Reading goalkeeper Adam Federici allowed an innocuous effort from Alexis Sanchez to creep under his body and settle the tie.

Alexis had put the Gunners in front just before half-time, but Garath McCleary’s equaliser brought the Royals level.

Arsenal had a good opportunity to open the scoring in the seventh minute, when Per Mertesacker stole in to meet a near-post corner with a header that was blocked on the line by Federici.

Mesut Ozil and Santi Cazorla also went close, but Reading held their own, stifling the Gunners in midfield and aiming to hit them on the counter-attack.

Jordan Obita’s left-foot drive was comfortably gathered by Wojciech Szczesny, while Nathaniel Chalobah struck a crisp volley that spun off Mertesacker and went behind for a corner.

Arsenal eventually made the breakthrough six minutes before the break.

Ozil’s clipped pass picked out Alexis inside the Reading penalty area and he evaded McCleary’s challenge before tucking his finish under Federici.

Reading failed to pick up Mertesacker at another set-piece soon after the restart, but the German’s header drifted wide of the post – and it was then Reading who began to look more threatening.

The Royals drew level in the 54th minute when Pavel Pogrebnyak wriggled clear and crossed to the far post, where McCleary stretched to hit a volley that deflected off Kieran Gibbs and, although Szczesny got his hands to the ball  could not prevent it crossing the line.

Reading then had a penalty appeal turned down soon afterwards when Obita’s cross struck the outstretched hand of Mathieu Debuchy.

Then Jamie Mackie set up Daniel Williams, but the midfielder miscued his volley and the scores remained level.

With Mertesacker limping off, his replacement Gabriel Paulista could have restored Arsenal’s lead twice from headers – one sailing over the bar and the other pushed onto the bar by Federici.

As the game opened up, there were good opportunities for both sides in the last 10 minutes of normal time, with Federici foiling Aaron Ramsey, who then hit the rebound against the post.

At the other end, Pogrebnyak burst clear but, with Mackie in space to his left, opted to shoot and could not find the finish to beat Szczesny.

There were few incidents of note in extra time until the end of the first period, when Federici tipped Ramsey’s drive over and then Pogrebnyak was halted by Laurent Koscielny’s challenge.

But Alexis struck the decisive blow on the stroke of the interval, cutting inside Chris Gunter and firing a shot that squirmed under the body of Federici, despite the keeper’s desperate attempt to scoop the ball back.

Substitute Olivier Giroud fired against the outside of the post in the second half, but there were no further goals and a relieved Arsenal side squeezed through to defend their trophy in next month’s final.

Arsenal: Szczesny 6; Debuchy 6, Mertesacker 5 (Gabriel 63, 6), Koscielny 7, Gibbs 6; Cazorla 6, Coquelin 8 (Walcott 101); Ramsey 6, Ozil 7, Sanchez 8; Welbeck 6 (Giroud 72).