LONDON // Arsene Wenger, the Arsenal manager, has encouraged his players to carry the momentum from their run to the English FA Cup final into the battle for a Premier League top-four finish.
The Frenchman saw his side beat holders Wigan Athletic 4-2 on penalties after a 1-1 draw in the semi-finals at Wembley Stadium on Saturday, taking them into an FA Cup final for the first time since they last won a trophy in 2005.
It was a day of mixed fortunes for the London club, however, as Everton's 1-0 victory at Sunderland in the league took them into the Uefa Champions League places at Arsenal's expense.
With five games to play, Everton lead Arsenal by two points, but now that his side have an FA Cup final date with either Hull City or Sheffield United to look forward to, Wenger wants them to go for broke in the league.
“If we win our games, we will finish in front (of Everton), so for us it is important now to focus on the Premier League,” Wenger said.
“If we do that well I am confident we will come back, and on top of that we have a target now for the end of the season: the FA Cup final.
“We have now a period where we can concentrate on the Premier League.”
Arsenal lost 3-0 to Everton in their last league outing, having also fallen to heavy defeats against Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea, and Wenger said that a loss to Wigan would have been a bitter pill to swallow.
“It is important that mentally we didn’t go out,” he said. “You could imagine the consequences of going out. It is quite worrying.”
Second-tier Wigan, who stunned Manchester City in last season's final, took the lead in the 63rd minute when Jordi Gomez scored from the spot after a foul by Per Mertesacker on Callum McManaman.
However, Mertesacker atoned with a headed 82nd-minute equaliser and after a goalless period of extra time, Arsenal goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski emerged as his side’s saviour in the shootout.
The 28-year-old Pole, who deputises for Wojciech Szczesny in cup games, repelled Wigan’s first two spot-kicks, from Gary Caldwell and Jack Collison, and Wenger heralded his professionalism.
“Fabianski did very well. He is a good goalkeeper. He showed that again today,” Wenger said of a player whose contract is due to expire at the end of the campaign.
“During the game, even with the penalty they scored, he went on the right side. He is quick. In the penalties he put us in a good position.”
Wigan must now rally themselves to resume their tilt at promotion from the Championship, having been relegated to the second tier shortly after their triumph in last season’s FA Cup final.
The northwest club are currently in fifth place in the Championship, synonymous with a play-off berth, and manager Uwe Rosler urged his players to kick on.
“I guess a lot of people will say, ‘Now they will never recover mentally from this,’ but we will just use this now,” said the German.
“Last season at (previous club) Brentford, we lost on automatic promotion in the 95th minute (of the final day) and the team recovered to go to the Wembley final (of the League One play-offs).
“It is exactly that mental strength, that willpower and desire to get through the play-offs, that is definitely our target.
“That is what we are breathing, eating and sleeping, and I think that will happen.”
He also admitted that his players had not been fully prepared for the shootout, albeit with his tongue firmly in his cheek.
“I got asked, ‘Have you practised penalties?’ I said, ‘No, I am German. You know we don’t need to practise penalties,’” he joked.
“We want to be back here in May (for the play-off final). When we are back in May, then we will practise penalties.”
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