Reading 1 Arsenal 2 ( aet )
( McCleary 54, Sanchez 39, 105 +1 )

Alexis Sanchez, took his time to settle, but in his first taste of FA Cup semifinal action at Wembley struck a double to seal Arsenal’s FA Cup final place next month. Credit Reading for their tenacious approach and Garath McCleary leveller to make it 1-1 in 90 minutes. But with the taste of victories in their Wembley visits of the recent past still in the memory, the Gunners showed they had the will to win and with Alexis they grabbed the winner after Royal’s keeper Adam Federici failed to hold onto a ball that was struck low and with power. However the Reading stopper got it horribly wrong as the ball squirmed in between his palms and under his legs to end up over the line. That goal seemed to atone do Wojciech Szczesny’s earlier mishandling after McCleary’s effort clipped off Kieran Gibbs which levelled Alexis’s opener after 39 minutes. The Chile striker showed all the composure and killer instinct in front of goal with a well taken shot. Arsenal then struck the woodwork twice through Aaron Ramsey and substitute Oliver Giroud and on the evidence of play were worthy winners as the holders return to defend their FA Cup against either Aston Villa or Liverpool.

Having reached back to back FA Cup finals, and a record 19th appearance in the FA Cup final, Arsene Wenger felt his side were made to work for next month’s showpiece fixture.

” It was a difficult game against a very resilient, well-organised, physically very strong side. They were a committed Reading team who were comparable to what we faced last year against Wigan Athletic. We have improved a bit because we needed the penalties last year but it meant we got through. We had a lot of possession – I think we had 23 shots on goal and 72 per cent possession – but it was still difficult to find space because they defended very well.

” I was surprised how strong they were in the challenges. In the second half they became even stronger in the challenges and we suffered a little bit then, and lost some balls that we’re not used to losing. In the end we were a bit lucky because their goalkeeper made the mistake and I can understand that. He kept them in the game as well for long periods,” said Wenger.

The Royal’s keeper had been in inspired earlier form, saving two goal bound headers from Per Metersacker and substitute Gabriel in either half. With McCleary’s leveller after Sanchez had given the Gunners the lead, the Australian’s saves propelled the semi-final to extra time, but Reading’s and Federici’s heartache would be confirmed with that goal keeping blunder.

Arsenal started well and when Gibbs fed Welbeck out on the left wing, the England man raced onto the pass getting a toe end to it ,but Federici came out to palm the danger away after 5 minutes.

Alexis then had a stab at shot which was deflected for a corner, after a neat patient build patient where Arsenal seemed very in control and also comfortable. It was from that corner where Mertersacker rose to head powerfully, but Federici was alert and saved saved low down.

It took just 9 minutes for Reading to test the Arsenal defence, the lively Jordan Obita struck a low shot which Szczesny held on to. When Welbeck was impeded as he threatened, Mesut Özil struck a free kick which whistled just wide of the upright.

Alexis was now settling down very nicely, switching flanks, and rose well to get a head onto Aaron Ramsey’s cross after 26 minutes. Controversy a minute later however when Alexis powered through and was in on goal as Federici came rushing off his line. The Royals’ keeper clipped the boot of Alexis, but referee Martin Atkinson failed to see the incident and bizarrely awarded a goal kick, when it could and should have been much worse for Federici.

For a team in 19th place in the Championship, Reading were demonstrating the kind of game which would have served them well in their league. However the strong arm tactics of Obita poking Ramsey in the eye and Jamie Mackie using his forearm to catch Laurent Kosclielny in the face was entirely unnecessary, but that is what was being witnessed on the pitch.

Six minutes before the break however and Arsenal took the lead. Ozil found Alexis with a pinpoint accurate pass. Surrounded by blue striped shirts, the Gunners’ number 17 coolly stepped past his marker before passing the ball under Federici’s body for the opener.

Arsenal emerged early for the second half, and soon saw Reading’s intentions when Hal Robson-Kanu hut a dipping shot go over Szczesny’s bar.

Like all their front line, Reading’s Pavel Pogrebnyak, all energy and strength had been tasked with a more defensive role, but it was no surprise when he created the Reading’s equaliser. The Russian got down the line past Mathieu Debuchy, and clipped a cross which looped over Kieran Gibbs. McCleary didn’t get the cleanest of contacts on the ball but the deflection off Gibbs saw Szczesny wrong sided and the ball ended up in the back of his net. On the bench, David Ospina just looked on.

Just past the hour mark, Mertersacker’s ankle gave way and substitute Gabriel made his way alongside Koscielny. The Brazil defender almost saw the perfect introduction, getting a powerful header to Özil’s corner which Federici did well to keep out.

With the game still level, Wenger took, off Welbeck, replacing him with Giroud. Another Özil free kick and Gabriel saw his free header over, with Giroud’s long range ambitious shot blocked.

Arsenal were finding Reading a tough and resilient nut to crack, but should have re-taken the lead seven minutes before time. Giroud held up the ball and teed up Ramsey. The former Wales captain held off his marker, and hit his shot which beat Federici, but not the post. It was agony for the Arsenal fans at their end.

After 87 minutes, Pogrebnyak created a two on one chance. Any shot or pass would have done, but in the end he appeared surprised with the time and space and did neither. There was just enough time for Gibbs to cross Giroud enabling to France striker to get a snap shot off, but that didn’t trouble Federici.

And so to extra time. Cazorla fired over from range as Arsenal went for the win. Wenger served notice of intent when sacrificing the steel of Francis Coquelin for Theo Walcott. Coquelin was again in indomitable mood, having the kind of defensive midfield game which Arsenal cannot do without. Ramsey went close with another effort and Walcott’s late pace was having the desired effects against a tiring Royal’s. Pogrebnyak was again the danger and only Koscileny’s block stood between him and Reading taking the lead.

However it was Sanchez with his 22nd goal of his first season in England, whose low shot through a succession of blue shirts might have unsighted Federici. The ball was missed and in the next moment under Federici’s body and in the net. The Arsenal fans celebrated deliriously, as the Reading and fans took in what had just transpired. There was still time for Giroud to take Özil’s pass and hit the post as Arsenal finished strongly to earn another FA Cup final, where they’ll look to win the famous trophy for a record 12th time.