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Reading vs Arsenal match report: Alexis Sanchez double saves Gunners' blushes to send holders through to FA Cup final

Reading 1 Arsenal 2: Chilean striker completes his double in extra-time to book Arsenal’s Wembley return after knife-edge thriller

Glenn Moore
Sunday 19 April 2015 08:10 BST
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Alexis Sanchez celebrates scoring a second for Arsenal against Reading
Alexis Sanchez celebrates scoring a second for Arsenal against Reading (Getty Images)

It is a cruel game sometimes. Until the 105th minute of this FA Cup semi-final Adam Federici was one of the heroes of Reading’s bold resistance, the Australian goalkeeper producing two outstanding saves as the Championship underdogs gave holders Arsenal a real fright.

Then Alexis Sanchez tried a shot which somehow, excruciatingly, squeezed through Federici’s hands, arms and legs, and over the line. It was the last kick of the first period of extra-time. During the break, while Steve Clarke counselled his team, Federici stood transfixed as his error was replayed on the giant screen. Then, when the final whistle went and Arsenal began celebrating he headed for the tunnel. Clarke attempted to console him but he the keeper was already in his own private hell. To add further pain he was then picked out of the hat for drug-testing.

It may take Federici a lifetime to get over this, and it can be assumed he will not be watching next month’s final when Arsenal will face Liverpool or Aston Villa, who meet at Wembley on Sunday. The Gunners will need to play better then than they did. Despite dominating possession and they created few clear chances from open play but did score from the best move of the match, Sanchez tucking away a sublime Mesut Ozil pass.

It was, nevertheless, a gripping match, ample reward for those who eschewed the more mundane fare from Stamford Bridge being broadcast in opposition.

“It was a difficult game, Reading were ready to die on the pitch, you have to congratulate them for the effort they put in,” said Arsene Wenger, who is on the brink of winning a record sixth FA Cup as a manager. “In the end we were lucky because their keeper made a mistake and I can understand he was distraught - but he kept them in the game for long periods.”

“I’m disappointed,” said Clarke. “I really thought we’d win. We came and had a go and there were stages in the game when we were the better team.” Pointing to two tight offside calls and a possible penalty for handball Clarke added: “These are the moments you need to go for you if you are the underdog.”

Alexis Sanchez celebrates his first goal (Getty Images)

History did not favour Clarke’s side. Whilst Arsenal have been regular visitors to Wembley since the late 1920s the Royals were making only their fourth appearance with the only success the Simod Cup in 1988. It was also just their second FA Cup semi-final. Had they won the first, in 1927, they would have met Arsenal in the final but Reading lost 3-0 to eventual shock winners Cardiff City. In addition it was the fourth FA Cup tie between the pair, Arsenal had won the previous three, in 1935, 1972 and 1987. Nor had Reading, having faced Championship and League One opposition in the FA Cup this season, beaten a top flight club in the competition since 2011.

But the FA Cup has a habit of proving history to be bunkum and Reading came with positive intent. Clarke played 4-4-2. This meant that Arsenal dominated possession, but such is their midfield quality they would probably have done so anyway. Fielding a front two meant Reading carried a threat which Arsenal had to be wary of. Indeed, had Mackie been given the benefit of a borderline offside call as he raced away from Per Mertesacker after 13 minutes they may well have scored first.

In a further indication of Reading’s approach Wojciech Szczesny, preferred in goal to David Ospina - which at Arsenal is confirmation of understudy status - had already needed to hold on to a powerful drive by left-back Jordan Obita from Gareth McCleary’s cross.

Wojciech Szczesny watches the ball cross the line as Garath McCleary scores for Reading (Getty Images)

However, Federici had also been tested, making a sharp save from Danny Welbeck and an excellent one from Mertesacker’s near-post header following an Ozil corner. Arsenal subsequently probed without penetrating until Ozil was allowed space and time to spot Sanchez darting away from McCleary. He chipped a pass into the path of the Chilean who showed quick feet and smart control to score. “Sanchez has that potential to create something special,” said Wenger.

The expectation was that Arsenal would now ease to victory but Reading were reading a different script. Eight minutes into the second period Pogrebnyak cut the ball back to McCleary whose shot took a slight deflection off Keiran Gibbs, enough to confound Szczesny who could not prevent the ball crossing the line before clawing it away.

Arsenal were shaken and their composure was not helped by Mertesacker departig with an ankle injury. However, his replacement, Gabriel Paulista, almost restored the Gunners’ lead from a corner only to be thwarted by a superb save from Federici.

The tie became breathless end-to-end stuff. Pogrebnyak broke away but pulled his shot wide, then Ozil fired over. Szczesny beat aside a fizzing Nathaniel Chalobah rocket, then Olivier Giroud lashed against the post from two yards out. Pogrebnyak wasted another breakaway, then Aaron Ramsey diverted Gibbs' cross over.

Into extra-time and Reading took stock, drawing up the wagons for a breather. Ramsey tried a shot which Federici misjudged but saw fly up and over. He was fortunate then, but his luck soon ran out in the most ghastly fashion.

Alexis Sanchez celebrates scoring a second for Arsenal against Reading (Getty Images)

In the final period the indefatigable Mackie sent a curler just over and Giroud hit the post again but, to Federici’s despair, the scoring was over. “This is the life of a goalkeeper,” said Clarke. “He is a strong character. He will take his disappointment on the chin. We stick by him.”

Reading: (4-4-2) Federici; Gunter, Hector, Pearce, Obita; McCleary, Williams, Chalobah, Robson-Kanu (Karacan, 90) Mackie; Pogrebnyak.

Arsenal: (4-2-3-1) Szczesny; Debuchy, Mertesacker (Gabriel, 62), Koscielny, Gibbs; Coquelin (Walcott, 101), Cazorla; Ramsey, Ozil, Sanchez; Welbeck (Giroud, 72).

Referee: M Atkinson.

Man of the match: Sanchez (Arsenal)

Match rating: 9/10

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