Reading: Federici, Gunter, Pearce, Hector, Obita, Williams, Chalobah, Robson-Kanu, McCleary, Mackie, Pogrebnyak.
In a sun-drenched Wembley Royals fans packed the East side of the home of football, with The Tilehurst End perched in the press box, the teams came out into a raucous atmosphere. Pavel Pogrebnyak returned to a familiar line-up with Nathan Ake and Kwesi Appiah cup-tied and Jem Karacan benched.
Reading took to the game confidently, but Danny Welbeck used his pace to get in behind first as Michael Hector missed a long ball - but the England forward couldn't take it round Adam Federici and it bounced out for a goal-kick. The Gunners possession game had begun, creating a half chance for Alexis Sanchez to win a corner, with Per Mertesacker forcing a low save from Feds at the near-post. Royals fans were unperturbed, however, and Obita forced a save with a low-drive from 20-yards.
The game was indeed even and Reading confident - Garath McCleary winning a foul of Sanchez in a good position that bought another long-range effort from Nathaniel Chalobah. Steve Clarke's men were well in the game although Mesut Ozil and Santi Cazorla fired off-target. And yet, unforced errors were restricting the Premier League side as Reading set up with two disciplined banks of four and survived the first 20 minutes unscathed.
25 minutes in and a nervy moment, as Sanchez broke down the middle and toed it round Federici - but the Aussie just managed to not clean out the Chilean attacker and it harmlessly rolled out of play. With the holders playing at walking pace in their own half, the game settled down with Reading comfortable if not threatening. This was summed up well as Jamie Mackie stole possession in Arsenal's half, but played a weak ball to The Pog and the chance was gone, with Sanchez being hustled into touch by McCleary typical of the opposition's errors.
But the possession told, as Sanchez found himself free in the six-yard-box, checked back and rolled it under Feds. The ex-Barcelona forward wasn't picked up from a ball over the top and got the wrong side of McCleary to slot home - with the clock at 39 minutes it suggested a crucial time to score for Arsene Wenger's side. The leaders saw out the half, with a McCleary break a brief interlude and the half-time whistled sounding with the Royals fans disappointed but not disheartened.
The second period began with both teams pumping free-kicks into the box to no avail - with fouls breaking up play in a way that suited neither side. Nevertheless pressure began to build and Pogrebnyak moved well down the left-wing, standing up a delicious far-post ball for McCleary to send home for 1-1. The Royals were level and the fans went mental, with press box etiquette momentarily broken to indulge in the Jamaican's sliding celebration in front of the blue-and-white hoops.
The holders were rattled and Reading strode forward with confidence and ease a number of times without a breakthrough as the game flew past the hour mark. Offsides were catching the resurgent Royals out with the Pog flagged up when clean through despite being at least level - the big Russian's power was on show and Wenger withdrew Mertesacker to shake up his defence.
With two handball shouts, one very good, turned down Arsenal sought a way back into the game. But sluggish passing was quickly closed down and Mackie teed up Danny Williams to scuff a volley wide after 65 minutes. The chances of the final 25 going without reply were still against Reading, however, as Laurent Koscielny reminded the Gunners fans what a chance looked like by directing a header for Federici to tip onto the bar. The substitute Gabriel then followed suit, but sent his unmarked header over the bar.
With 15 minutes left Arsenal super-sub elect Olivier Giroud had a sniff at a one-on-one to confirm a turn in the territorial tide. Pogrebnyak and Ozil traded wayward efforts before Chalobah stung the fingertips of the opposition keeper from 25-yards. That corner birthed a fierce counter-attack, Aaron Ramsey played in to poke a shot at Federici, the Welshman firing the rebound into the post with a goal gaping. It was, in all honest, a big let-off for the Royals. Just afterwards it was the other way round - Pogrebnyak breaking free but failing to deliver an incisive finish. With injury-time, and another 30 minutes, looming it was totally open and very even.
Just two minutes added time saw Ramsey and Giroud have minor chances after Jem Karacan was introduced by Steve Clarke for a 4-5-1. The whistle shortly blew and it was a case of buckle up for extra-time.
The first 15 kicked off after a team huddle but few chances of substance were created, forcing Wenger to throw on Theo Walcott for defensive-midfielder Francis Coquelin. Indeed, it was the team in red that had the better of the play with Ramsey forcing a save and Pogrebnyak running up the other end to have a shot blocked.
Then, disaster. Alexis ran at goal and cut-in and fired low but straight at Federici. But, it slipped through, and Arsenal led on the stroke of half-time. A real sickening blow for the Royals.
The second-half began with Simon Cox subbed on for Chalobah and immediately Mackie cut-in a la Sanchez, but powered the ball over the bar. With ten left, the Pog's industrious spell was ended with Yakubu's introduction to a game that Reading were in, but the familiar feeling of missing out by the finest margins was on the fans' mind - especially as Giroud hit the post on 112 minutes.
Pressure threatened to mount for Reading, showing a stiff-upper-lip resolve but aware of slipping minutes. Long balls into the box subsided to opposition possession and the whistle blew to confirm the end of Reading's FA Cup dream. So harsh was it that Federici, arguably our player of the season, was the man held responsible for the ultimate nearly-moment. Alas, that is football - the same game that watched on as Championship Reading threatened to knock out the FA Cup holders at Wembley, but fell short at the last.
Final score: Reading 1-2 Arsenal