Arsenal reveal their secrets for penalty success
Friday 13 March 2009
Arsenal did not practice penalties before Wednesday night's Champions League tie in Rome which culminated in the Gunners defeating Roma in a shoot-out. "I did not think it would go to penalties," said manager Arsene Wenger.
So, lucky Arsenal again eh? Maybe, maybe not. Wenger said his players practiced penalties occasionally in training but would never do so the day before a match. "I don't think it helps," he said. Many coaches differ. Guus Hiddink's Chelsea took penalties before Chelsea's tie with Juventus on Tuesday, including John Terry, who missed the crucial spot-kick in last year's final.
Liverpool practiced prior to defeating Roma on penalties in the European Cup final a quarter of a century ago. Then again, only Steve Nicol scored in that training session. On the night Nicol was the only Liverpool player to miss as Roma lost 4-2 on their own ground.
The reality is that, however much innovative coaches attempt to replicate the scenario (at Watford Aidy Boothroyd had his players take kicks in front of the crowd following a league game), it is impossible to imitate the circumstances surrounding a shoot-out. Players will be tired, physically and mentally, the tension will be overwhelming. They may have had a good game, or a bad one. Whilst there is something to be said for practicing technique - and as golfer Gary Players once said, 'the more I practice the luckier I get' - that long lonely walk to the spot can only be experienced in the here and now.
Which is why England, as well as Arsenal, could prove to benefit from Theo Walcott being blooded. "It was a really good experience for me," he said after scoring his spot-kick. "It was the first shoot-out I have ever done. I didn't expect to take the third penalty but the boss (Wenger chose the first seven takers, Abou Diaby then volunteered to take the eighth) has faith in all of us. That definitely showed in the penalty-takers tonight. He told me I was third and I am not going to say, 'No'. I just wanted to get up there and see what would happen.
"I had a dry throat going towards the goal but I didn't look at the goalkeeper once. I didn't want to make eye contact because he might have put me off. Plus he was a big lad. I learned that from James Beattie (when they were both at Southampton). He's one of the best penalty takers I have seen."
Walcott added: "It's all about positive thinking. The best thing is not to change your mind."
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