Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta hailed the mentality of Bukayo Saka to bounce back from Euro 2020 final penalty shoot-out heartbreak, while he implored the Gunners to capitalise in the top-four race.
Saka missed the decisive spot-kick for England against Italy in early July, leading to a wave of online racial abuse towards him and international colleagues Jadon Sancho and Marcus Rashford.
Arteta previously suggested the penalty failure would aid Saka’s development and resilience, and the 20-year-old has supported his manager’s comments with his best Premier League season to date.
Saka has scored 11 times in the league and assisted five more as Arsenal battle with Tottenham for the final Champions League qualification spot, while he has made amends from the penalty spot in recent weeks.
Indeed, he became the youngest player ever to score a penalty in consecutive Premier League appearances following spot-kicks against Chelsea and Manchester United in the last two games.
Arteta confirmed Saka will again be on penalty duties should the chance arise at West Ham on Sunday as the Spaniard heaped praise on the England international.
“Well, if someone has to take a penalty, he will take it,” Arteta told reporters at a pre-match news conference on Friday.
“Again, but it happened quite naturally in the Chelsea game, he took it and the next game we had another one and hopefully he can continue to put the ball in the back of the net.
“The first two conversations that I had [with him] it was straight after the incident [at Euro 2020], but Gareth Southgate was really helpful as well because he had Bukayo in his hands at that moment and they were really caring and really supportive of him, so by the time he joined us, he was in a really good place.
“Obviously, he got all this support and love and help in any way that he needed it to overcome that situation and then it’s down to him and his family around him that were very helpful for him.”
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) April 23, 2022
Arsenal have been inspired by their younger players this season, with Emile Smith Rowe just the second Gunner to score 10 or more Premier League goals in a season, after Nicolas Anelka in 1998-99 (17).
Fellow youngster Eddie Nketiah also netted twice to guide Arsenal past Chelsea earlier in the month, and Arteta believes club experience helps his youthful squad when they go on international duty.
“I think they’re doing it at their clubs and that’s really, really important so again, the step of demands is not that high, they are already key and important players in their own clubs,” he added.
“So they’re used to that pressure and at international level it’s something very different, but I think they have the maturity and they have the capacity to sustain that level under pressure because they’re doing it every week at their clubs.”
2 – Emile Smith Rowe and Bukayo Saka have both scored 10+ goals in the Premier League this season; just the third time two players aged 21 or under have done so for the same team in a campaign (Bridges & Kewell for Leeds in 99-00, Rooney & Ronaldo for Man Utd in 06-07). Jewels. pic.twitter.com/CeVp9fzTmX
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) April 20, 2022
Arteta will be hoping his young Gunners can deliver again when Arsenal visit fellow top-four chasers West Ham on Sunday, looking to improve on their two-point lead over fifth-placed Tottenham.
However, the Arsenal manager warned to expect more changes heading into the final weeks of the season as teams battle for European football next campaign.
Asked whether the fight for fourth place was a two-horse race, he responded: “I don’t think so, there will still be some twists and turns, we all have difficult matches to play.
“We all know how difficult it is to win games in the Premier League and now we had two really good results that put us in a really good position. But it is about doing it again at West Ham.
“I think in the league when you are able to win consecutively away and at home, it gives you a huge platform and things quickly change.
“We have some momentum now and we want to make the most out of it.”
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