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Mikel Arteta has denied that Arsenal were hit by Wembley jitters after they scraped into the FA Cup final in a penalty shoot-out against Wigan.
The Gunners looked far from convincing against their Championship opponents in Saturday’s semi-final and were eight minutes away from exiting the competition as they trailed to a Jordi Gomez penalty.
Although Per Mertesacker’s header staved off defeat, Arsenal failed to force a winner in extra time and had to rely on spot-kicks to book their place in the final.
A relieved Arteta admitted that Wigan had subjected the Gunners to their sternest examination so far in this season’s FA Cup, although he refuted suggestions that his side had been edgy.
“I don’t think we were nervous,” said the Spanish midfielder, who netted Arsenal’s first penalty in the shoot-out, with Kim Kallstrom, Olivier Giroud and Santi Cazorla also successful from the spot.
“We were concerned because it’s a semi-final. We were unlucky to go one down but after that we played much better.
“We really went for it and we had a chance when we hit the crossbar. The goalkeeper made some unbelievable saves and we were thinking ‘this is not our day’ again.
“But we did it and we’re really happy to be in the final – in the penalties I thought we were terrific and Lukasz [Fabianski] made a big difference.
“I don’t know any team in the world that, when they win a competition, don’t go through a difficult moment in that competition.
“This was probably the most difficult moment that we’ve had in the FA Cup, even though we’ve played Spurs, Liverpool and Everton. We went through it and we’re really happy to be in the final.
“This gives us confidence and a little bit of enthusiasm and something to look forward to at the end of the season.”
One of the undoubted bright spots for Arsenal was Aaron Ramsey’s return to the starting line-up for the first time since he was sidelined by a persistent groin problem in late December.
The Wales international, who was the Gunners’ star performer during their rise to the top of the Premier League earlier in the campaign and also enjoyed a purple patch in front of goal, has been sorely missed in recent months.
Arteta added: “Aaron has been in a key role and he was one of the most important players for us in the first part of the season, the same as Theo [Walcott].
“We lost massive players at important moments for a long time, so having people like Aaron back is going to give us something different and it gives us a lift as well.
“It’s the same with Alex [Oxlade-Chamberlain] – I think he was terrific again with his pace. That’s what we’re lacking, the pace up front and I think Alex gives us something extra.”
Arsenal’s 4-2 victory in the penalty shoot-out took them to their first FA Cup final since they last lifted the trophy – or, indeed, any trophy – after beating Manchester United on spot-kicks in 2005.
Technically, however, they have yet to taste victory at the new Wembley Stadium, having lost on their two previous visits – an FA Cup semi-final against Chelsea and the 2011 Carling Cup final to Birmingham City.
But the Gunners have another opportunity to break that duck when they take on Hull City, who overcame Sheffield United 5-3 in Sunday’s second semi-final, on May 17.