Arsenal FC barely survived a scare by Championship side Wigan in the FA Cup semifinal at Wembley Stadium Saturday, looking lackluster throughout and needing overtime plus a penalty shootout before securing their spot in the storied FA Cup Final — and possibly saving the job of beleaguered manager Arsene Wenger.
After Wigan’s Jordi Gomez converted a penalty in the 63rd minute to give Wigan a 1-0 lead, Arsenal looked to be on its way to the most disappointing season of the Arsene Wenger era. Not only were they on the verge of crashing out of the FA Cup where they are clear favorites, but also on Saturday in Barclays Premier League action, Everton FC scraped past relegation-bound Sunderland 1-0.
The victory vaults Everton past Arsenal into fourth place in the league, occupying the final Champions League qualification slot. Arsenal FC now trails the Merseyside club by two points with five games to play, and could be looking at an end to their streak of 16 straight UEFA Champions League berths under the Arsene Wenger regime.
The best hope for Arsenal and Wenger is that they appear to have the weaker schedule remaining. Everton must face both Manchester clubs as well as eighth-place Southampton as they try to hang on to their first-ever Champions League qualifying spot. But for Arsenal, ninth-place Newcastle is the only upper-half team on their upcoming fixture list.
But an exit from the FA Cup surely would have signaled an end to the Wenger era. It took Per Mertesacker to head in a bouncing, errant attempt by Alex Oxlaide-Chamberlain in the 82nd minute from just three yards in front of goal to equalize the contest and possibly keep Wenger at Arsenal.
Wigan appealed for an offside call against the German, but the officials did not oblige, keeping Arsenal alive until a penalty shootout won by the Gunners 4-2.
Now Arsenal have their best chance for silverware since the League Cup final in 2011 when Arsenal was heavily favored against Birmingham, but were undone when goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny and defender Laurent Koscielny got crossed up and allowed the underdogs to sneak a winner into the net.
The May 17 FA Cup Final could mark an end to Arsenal’s nine-year trophy drought. But if it doesn’t, and especially if they somehow fail to overtake Everton in the Premier League, the belief is that Wenger would be on his way out.
“Every Arsenal fan you speak to asks, “Is it time for Arsene Wenger to go?” said BBC Radio commentator and former Ireland international Kevin Kilbane. “Only he can make that decision, and we all know how stubborn he can be.”