By Steve Douglas ,AP
Arsenal reached the FA Cup final by ending second-tier Wigan’s impressive title defense in a penalty shootout at Wembley Stadium, making up for the disappointment of dropping out of the Premier League’s top four earlier Saturday.
After needing an 82nd-minute goal by Per Mertesacker to force extra time at 1-1, Arsenal won the shootout 4-2 to keep alive its chances of capturing a first piece of major silverware since 2005.
“We have been struggling in recent weeks but you have to deal with that,” said Arsenal midfielder Kim Kallstrom, who scored the second of Arsenal’s four straight successful penalties. “Hopefully, it’s a great boost of confidence for the rest of the season.”
Hull plays Sheffield United in the second semifinal on Sunday.
When Jordi Gomez put Wigan ahead from the penalty spot in the 63rd, it threatened to be a disastrous day for Arsenal, which was replaced in fourth spot in the league by Everton thanks to its 1-0 win at bottom-placed Sunderland.
While Sunderland looks doomed — seven points from safety with six games left — the race to avoid the other two relegation spots heated up after huge wins for Fulham and Cardiff, who stayed in the bottom three but closed the gap to their rivals.
Third-bottom Fulham beat fourth-bottom Norwich 1-0 and next-to-last Cardiff surprisingly won 1-0 at Southampton, while Aston Villa is only four points from the bottom three after losing 1-0 at Crystal Palace thanks to in-form Jason Puncheon’s goal. Just eight points separates the nine teams above Sunderland.
Sixth-place Tottenham came from 3-0 down after 31 minutes to draw 3-3 at West Bromwich Albion thanks to Christian Eriksen’s injury-time equalizer, although two dropped points dents the visitors’ already faint hopes of Champions League soccer next season.
Newcastle’s slump accelerated with a 1-0 home loss to Stoke in the day’s other game.