Bukayo Saka ready to take penalty for England despite Euro 2020 heartbreak

Bukayo Saka ready to take penalty for England despite Euro 2020 heartbreak

Bukayo Saka is ready to step up to the penalty spot for England again as he said his hot streak at the World Cup has “lifted” him following his Euro 2020 heartbreak.

The Arsenal forward missed the decisive penalty as England lost the final to Italy in a shoot-out last summer and went on to suffer horrific online racist abuse in the aftermath.

Since then, Saka has been crowned Arsenal’s player of the season, England’s player of the year and ended the last campaign as the Gunners’ top goalscorer.

He has also played a key role in taking Mikel Arteta’s side to the top of the Premier League and has scored three goals in Qatar to help England through to a quarter-final clash with reigning world champions France.

The 21-year-old struck twice in the opening 6-2 win over Iran and then added the third in a comfortable 3-0 victory against Senegal in the last 16 on Sunday night.

With the prospect of penalties now looming over the tournament in the knockout stage, Saka insists he would not shy away from taking another high-pressure spot-kick – having scored three out of three for Arsenal since.

“I have matured and progressed a lot as a player and as a person since that moment,” he said of his miss against Italy.

“I would not have stepped up the times I have stepped up for Arsenal to take a penalty if I wasn’t confident, so if the moment comes and I am selected to take a penalty, I am more than happy to.

“To be honest, I feel like personally I’ve tried to move on from that moment. Obviously I know I can never really forget about it, it is going to be in history.

“But at the same time, coming out here and scoring those three goals, of course lifted me a lot. Like I keep saying, the love from the fans that I keep receiving lifts me a lot as well.

England v Senegal – FIFA World Cup 2022 – Round of 16 – Al Bayt Stadium
Saka celebrates scoring England’s third goal against Senegal (Martin Rickett/PA)

“It gives me a lot of confidence and I love to see that from the fans.”

Saka believes England have nothing to fear as they prepare to take on holders France for a place in the semi-finals.

He said: “I feel we have just got to prepare the best game plan and go there with confidence. We are playing really good right now.

“There is no doubt about the quality we have in our team. We are blessed with an amazing front line. There is so much quality attacking players.

“When you are selected, it shows how much confidence the boss has in you so that gives you that extra confidence to go out and shine. Last night we were able to do that.”

AFC Bournemouth v Arsenal – Premier League – Vitality Stadium
Saka says it “meant everything” that Thierry Henry, pictured, was in touch after his Euro 2020 heartbreak (Andrew Matthews/PA)

Saka also revealed Arsenal’s all-time leading goalscorer and France World Cup winner Thierry Henry had sought him out in the aftermath of Euro 2020.

“Thierry was in touch,” he said. “It meant everything, he’s shown a lot of character for him to get my number and to reach out to me.

“It’s not just from that moment. After most Arsenal games, he reaches out to me and he’s still so passionate about the club and he’s an amazing person.”

Saka said he has never met former Gunners boss Arsene Wenger but was full of praise for his influence, which is still felt at the club.

“One of my biggest regrets, well not regrets but things I’ve not been able to do, was to meet Arsene Wenger,” he added.

“I know how much my dad loves him and how much everyone at the club loves him and I know what he did for the club, of course.

“Then so many other French players like Thierry and Robert Pires who have been around the club and spoken to me and helped me and they have supported me to this day, so I’m grateful to them.

“Of course, on the pitch, they delivered and they were magnificent and they delivered silverware for Arsenal so they will be legends, always.”