Penalty heroics from Lukasz Fabianski saw Arsenal make it to their first FA Cup final since 2005, as the Polish goalkeeper saved two spot-kicks in a penalty shoot-out after Wigan Athletic fought all the way during a 1-1 draw after 120 minutes.
A Jordi Gomez penalty, won by Callum McManaman after being felled by Per Mertesacker looked like it might be enough. However the German international atoned for his error, scoring a header with eight minutes to go to see the English Premier League side snatch an equaliser against their Championship opponents to take the game to extra-time.
No one could find the winner after 90 minutes, so it came down to a penalty shoot-out to separate the sides. Fabianski saved Wigan's first two efforts, before Santi Cazorla put away the vital effort for Arsenal, winning 4-2.
The last time Arsenal had won at Wembley was 15 years ago, during their ill-fated residency during the UEFA Champions League, where late Theirry Henry and Davor Suker goals saw them beat AIK Solna of Sweden 3-1 in the shadow of the old twin towers. Cup-holders Wigan only had to look back 11 months, when they defeated Manchester City in last season's climax.
Both sides were looking to bounce back from league defeats, with Wigan making seven changes to side that lost in midweek, while Aaron Ramsey and Yaya Sanogo came in for Arsenal, alongside this season's regular cup goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski.
Both sides began brightly, but Arsenal could have had two inside five minutes. A heavy touch from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain after 30 seconds spurned after a well-worked opening, before the English international found Sanogo with a volleyed cross, only for the French striker to head straight at Scott Carson.
Arsenal were content to maintain possession in the early stages, while Wigan were resilient in the face of a relentless stream of sideways passes, pressuring the English Premier League side high up the field, though the lively Oxlade-Chamerberlain was a consistent threat. The next opportunity arrived from a far less conventional source though, as Bacary Sagna stole in at the far post after Thomas Vermaelen flicked-on Santi Cazorla's corner. His effort, however, flashed across goal.
Wigan's own pacey forward was causing trouble as McManaman was given license to charge at the Arsenal backline. He went as close as the Latics came in the opening period, as his miss-hit cross shaved the crossbar.
Sanogo had a second chance to send the Gunners into the break ahead as he ran clear of the opposing backline, but his first touch took him wide before Carson tightened the angle and charged down the shot.
The pattern of play continued into the second-half, with Arsenal dominating possession until just prior to the hour-mark Per Mertesacker brought down McManaman inside the area after another impressive burst of pace. An injury to Nacho Monreal in the build-up saw the kick delayed, but Jordi Gomez held his nerve to convert the penalty.
Arsenal thought they had found an equaliser with ten minutes to go, but Sagna – again arriving at the far post – saw his header hit the base of the post. Seconds later fellow full-back Kieran Gibbs went even closer, with a combination of a world-class save from Carson and last-ditch clearance from Stephen Crainey.
However, the pressure finally told, with Mertesacker redeeming himself for his earlier foul as he arrived late at the far post to convert Oxlade-Chamberlain's deflected shot. The flow was entirely one-way as full time neared, with substitute Olivier Giroud the next to test Carson. Wigan held firm though, riding out the late pressure to take the game into extra-time.
The manner the game had finished, with Arsenal in the ascendancy continued, but Wigan defended doggedly. Sanogo was agonisingly close to getting a crucial toe on tantalising cross, before he stung the palms of Carson with a fierce effort. Oxlade-Chamberlain then saw Arsenal rattle the woodwork for a second time, smashing a shot against the angle with ten minutes remaining of the additional period.
Slack defending almost saw Wigan snatch a goal, with James Perch picking out an unmarked Jack Collison, but he could not get the purchase on his header to guide it on target. A purposeful run from Nick Powell sparked brief hope among Latics fans, but his shot was skewed wide and the game went to penalties.
Fabianski saved Wigan's first two efforts, as Gary Caldwell and Jack Collison were both denied. With all the following spot-kicks put away it was left to Santi Cazorla to hand Arsenal victory and see them return to Wembley in a month's time.