Wenger: Wigan win vital for confidence
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger admits he was worried what defeat to Wigan in Saturday's FA Cup semifinal at Wembley could have done to his side's confidence after watching them come through the drama of a penalty shootout.
Stand-in goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski was the hero as his two saves helped the Gunners beat the holders 4-2 on penalties after a 1-1 draw to reach their first FA Cup final since 2005.
After a bright start by Arsenal, it was the Latics who went ahead through a penalty from Jordi Gomez after Per Mertesacker tripped Callum McManaman in the box just after the hour. However, the Gunners equalised with seven minutes left as Mertesacker, nodded home to make amends for his earlier foul.
After Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain had hit the crossbar in extra-time, it was down to penalties, and Fabianski -- replacing regular No.1 Wojciech Szczesny -- produced fine saves from Gary Caldwell and Jack Collison before Santi Cazorla rolled in the winning spot-kick.
Everton's 1-0 win over Sunderland earlier on in the day had pushed Arsenal out of the top four of the Premier League, and Wenger -- who has yet to agree a contract extension past the end of the season -- was all too aware of the potential 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 quarterfinals. 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 continued. "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, despite falling out of the Premier League title race.
"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.''
Wigan manager Uwe Rosler felt his team could not have given any more in their defeat to the Gunners, stating: "We faced Arsenal -- one of the top teams in the country -- and did very well. We were only eight minutes away from winning, but we had to make some substitutions early and unfortunately we could not hold out."
The German coach was particularly proud of the way in which his side forced Wenger's team -- who usually rely on short, sharp passing -- into using unorthodox tactics.
"We forced Arsenal to play some long balls in the second half, which is unusual for the way they play, and we still looked to attack them when we could," he continued.
"I am absolutely proud of how they performed and what they put in. When you can see the finish line, but just not get over and then bounce back in extra-time, that shows mental strength and character. We want to be back here in May [for the playoffs], when we are back in May, then we will practice penalties. You need a bit of luck and we did not have it on our side today.''