Arsenal squeeze into FA Cup final as Sanchez stuns Reading
Arsenal required extra-time against Reading to book their return to Wembley, for what will be a second successive FA Cup final, but made hard work of their ruckus with the Royals, which finished as a flattering 2-1 victory for the Gunners.
Reading can return to the Madjeski Stadium with their heads held high, as only the composure of Alexis Sanchez, who bagged a brace, and a custodian calamity, stood between the Berkshire club and a historic result.
Coach Steve Clarke certainly had his side well-drilled, as Reading approached the game with attacking intent and enthusiasm from the off, while Arsenal looked a pale shadow of their recent swashbuckling selves.
Reading seem to adore playing Arsenal and, although this clash did not bring as many goals as previous duels, it did not disappoint for drama.
The Royals, who sit 18th in the Championship and are at risk from relegation, raised their game significantly against the Gunners, threatening their rivals repeatedly on the counter.
On-loan attacking star Jamie Mackie was perhaps the pick of an impressive bunch for the Championship battlers, and can consider himself unlucky to have had a legitimate run ruled offside early on.
The 29-year-old showcased tricky feet and tremendous workrate to repeatedly trouble a rusty Mathieu Debuchy, who had been thrown back into the fray but struggled at times to keep up with the pace.
In the early exchanges, Reading were relatively untroubled by an Arsenal side that failed to find space and width, but the Gunners’ quality in the final third saw them eventually come unstuck in the 39th minute.
Sanchez struck after Mesut Ozil bypassed the Royals’ rearguard with a beautifully weighted ball over the top, leaving the Chile international to chest down and slip the ball through ex-Australia international Adam Federici’s legs.
It was a rare moment of incisiveness from Arsenal, who lacked real threat until Olivier Giroud replaced Danny Welbeck around the 70th minute mark.
As for Reading, the Madjeski men responded well after the break, as Hal Robson-Kanu and Garath Mcleary roamed down the wings, matched only for exuberance by midfield dynamo Danny Williams.
The Royals eventually reaped the rewards of their perseverance in the 58th minute, as target man Pavel Pogrebnyak turned provider, stretching to keep the ball in play before hitting a perfect cross for onrushing Mcleary, who fired a low volley past Wojciech Szczesny.
The Polish goalie inexplicably let the ball slip from his grasp and over the line, but unfortunately for Reading it was not to be the last, or most decisive, error in net.
Arsenal had an increased urgency following the equaliser, with usually prolific pair Aaron Ramsey and Giroud both striking the post, and Reading seemed relieved to reach extra-time after the Gunners’ late peppering of goal.
It was Sanchez again who made the difference, trying his luck against Federici after weaving inside, only for the custodian to fumble the ball through his own legs this time.
Sanchez’s second sucker-punch was too much for Reading at such a late stage, and the keeping clanger gave Arsenal a lucky lifeline which they duly claimed, securing a route and return to Wembley yet again.