Thursday 18 January 2018

Federici error hands scruffy Arsenal place in final

Reading 1 Arsenal 2

Federici spills a shot from Arsenal's Alexis Sanchez in extra time
Federici spills a shot from Arsenal's Alexis Sanchez in extra time
Reading's Adam Federici pushes Gabriel's header onto the crossbar
Garath McCleary (not pictured) scores Reading's equaliser as Arsenal's Wojciech Szczesny attempts to save
Reading's Adam Federici is consoled by Arsenal's Wojciech Szczesny at the end of the match

Paul Wilson

Two goals from Alexis Sanchez, the second a little streakier than the first, were enough to send holders Arsenal back to the FA Cup final, once again after extra time.

Sanchez gave the Gunners the lead in the first half proper, and again in the first half of extra time after Garath McCleary had equalised for Reading with a well-taken goal. Aaron Ramsey, hero last season against Hull, missed a sitter at the end of normal time that would have made the game safe and must have been relieved that his shot against a post from four yards out did not cost his side more dearly.

Adam Federici did well from an Arsenal corner early on, getting low down to his left to keep out the game's first real attempt when Per Mertesacker got his head to Mesut Ozil's cross. Reading were being pinned back in their own half in the early stages, though they showed attacking intent once they did cross the halfway line, Jordan Obita producing a shot on target that went straight at Wojciech Szczesny.

Arsenal nearly managed to take the lead just before the half-hour. A measured through ball from Cazorla neatly bisected the Reading centre-back pairing and perfectly picked up Sanchez's run, but Federici had spotted the danger and came hurtling out of his area to just do enough to put the Arsenal forward off as he tried to slip the ball past him.

Reading were struggling to make something out of nothing, whereas Arsenal have players who specialise in the subject. The opening goal, when it came, appeared to arrive from nowhere though in fact was another case of a searching ball picking out a forward's run into the box. This time Ozil was the instigator, finding Sanchez, whose control and speed on the turn did the rest. Artfully pulling the ball back to leave McCleary chasing a lost cause, Sanchez calmly made space for a shot and applied a finish that beat the despairing dives of both Federici and Michael Hector, the latter vainly attempting to recover position when it was too late.

Mertesacker was wide with a header from a Cazorla free-kick at the beginning of the second half, though it was clear from the restart that Reading had decided to take the game to Arsenal a little more.

In the 54th minute they succeeded in bringing Pogrebnyak into the game and immediately gained a reward.

The Russian reached a ball played through to the byline and turned back a cross from the left that looked at first as though it might be too high and too deep for everyone in the box, until McCleary got beyond Gibbs and supplied an impressive first-time finish at the far post.

Hugely encouraged, Reading could have had a penalty when Mathieu Debuchy stopped a cross from Hal Robson-Kanu with his arm. The arm was not outstretched, which was presumably why Martin Atkinson did not give anything, but contact was certainly made. With the Reading fans making some noise now the semi was finally coming to life, and when Gabriel came on as a replacement for Mertesacker he immediately brought a flying save from Federici with a header from Ozil's corner.

Arsenal had the ideal fresh legs for extra time in Theo Walcott, and he was sent on after 10 minutes, though uninvolved in the winning goal. Ramsey produced a shot that Federici misjudged and was fortunate to deflect over his bar, but the Reading goalkeeper's luck ran out a couple of minutes later.

Little seemed on when Sanchez cut in from the left and sent a speculative low shot through a crowd of players, but though Federici had it covered he could not hold on to the ball and it squirmed over the line through his legs. It was a scruffy way to seal a semi-final, a bit like Arsenal's overall performance.


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