Latics 1 Arsenal 1 AET (Arsenal win 4-2 on penalties)

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Supporters believed the unbelievable, Latics came so close, but the glorious FA Cup run ended cruelly.

Per Mertesacker turned from villain to hero as he dragged Arsenal away from becoming the latest Premier League victims of Wigan Athletic’s FA Cup run.

Gary Caldwell looks dejected after missing Wigan's first penalty in the shootout

Gary Caldwell looks dejected after missing Wigan's first penalty in the shootout

With Latics leading 1-0 and holding on to the lead with their fingertips - a burst of attacks and corners from The Gunners ended as Mertesacker nudged the ball past Scott Carson with nine minutes to go.

The latest chapter in Wigan’s unbelieveable Wembley romance had reached a thrilling peak 21 minutes earlier.

Whistles hissed around the stadium, Uwe Rosler turned his back, unable to watch, two chefs left their posts to stand at the back and see it for themselves.

Jordi Gomez placed the ball on the spot. Cool and calm - most men’s hearts would be pounding and their bodies flooding with adrenaline - if Gomez’s were no one could tell.

Goal.

Arsenal’s Lukasz Fabianski had guessed correctly but the ball was in the net before he had landed. The outnumbered but louder Wigan fans roared - this wasn’t supposed to happen again.

That was the easy bit.

Then quiet. The Wigan contingent at Wembley for a fourth time in 12 months began to realise there was half an hour’s worth of holding Arsenal’s bombardment at bay, a side 20 places above them in the football league.

The spot kick was a result of Mertesacker bringing the brilliant Callum McManaman down during a disjointed but exciting assault of shot after shot at the Arsenal goal.

And hold on they did, for 21 minutes they had the upper hand. The sea of red in the stands was hushed. The accompaniment to the show was “Oooh, Ahhhh…”

But then heartbreak, frustration, call it whatever.

Mertesacker’s head had drawn his side level. The unbelieveable would have to wait.

The Gunners started like a house on fire, with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain finding space and being given a chance after just 42 seconds when McManaman gave the ball away.

And the London side gave the Latics fans in front of them another heart-in-the-mouth moment four minutes later, when Yaya Sanogo raced through on goal. A great save from Carson denied Arsenal and Ivan Ramis cleared up the spillage to give his team mates a breather.

Save for Jean Beausejour going down in the box to muted calls from Wigan fans for a penalty, Arsenal continued to enjoy the majority of territory and possession with Chamberlain again forcing a save from Carson after 15 minutes.

Wigan’s Premier League opponents forced a corner 10 minutes later when Aaron Ramsey played the ball on to Sanogo but Ramis once again came to the rescue.

The outnumbered but certainly not outvoiced Latics fans were then made to endure another moment of baited breath as Sanga aimed-up but his shot went harmlessly across the face of the goal.

But fearless Wigan weathered the storm and grew with confidence after exposing vulnerable spots in Arsenal’s artillery more than once.

Marc-Antoine Fortune sent a chance Gomez’s way which was fired over the bar - but once they found a way through Latics kept pressing.

Semi-final hero of 2013 McManaman had the Wigan end of the stadium, shielding their eyes from the Sun, on their feet as he went close on the half hour and went closer still after making a gutsy run into the Arsenal penalty area seven minutes later.

After the sides exchanged goals in the second half, with the playing field level in terms of the scoreline once more, Arsenal threatened when substitute Olivier Giroud aimed low and shot hard - but Carson had it covered.

And as the words ‘extra-time’ started to creep into people’s lexicon, the now standing Wigan fans had one more moment to watch through splayed fingers as their side won a corner.

But a sea of red shirts swarmed the area - knowing going down a second time would probably be too much - even with five minutes’ worth of added time.

Post 90 minutes, a handful of chances fell to both sides but none carried much weight behind a combination of flagging legs and a noticeable shift in attitude as the stakes rose.

Substitute Nick Powell shot over in the 92nd minute and Giroud failed to convert a chance when James Perch lost possession in his own box.

The second 15 minutes saw the game tighten further still.

Chamberlain rattled the post with what would have been an unstoppable shot and Wigan’s highlight fell to Jack Collison who latched on to a James Perch cross with a nice header, shading just wide of the goal.

Wigan: Gomez ‘60

Arsenal: Mertesacker: ‘81

Shootout:

Wigan:

Caldwell, saved

Collison, saved

Beausejour, goal

McArthur, goal

Arsenal:

Arteta, goal

Kallstrom, goal

Giroud, goal

Cazorla, goal