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

Bukayo Saka is set to take the spot again for England, as he said his World Cup run “relieved” him after his Euro 2020 heartbreak.

The Arsenal forward missed the decisive penalty when England lost the final to Italy on penalties last summer and went on to face horrific racist abuse online afterwards.

Since then, Saka has been crowned Arsenal’s Player of the Season, England’s Player of the Year and finished the final season as the Gunners’ top scorer.

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

The 21-year-old scored twice in an opener’s 6-2 win against Iran and then scored the third in a comfortable 3-0 win against Senegal in Sunday night’s round of 16.

With the prospect of penalties now looming over the tournament in the knockout stages, Saka insists he would not hesitate to deliver another high-pressure spot kick, having scored three from three for Arsenal since then.

“I’ve matured and progressed a lot as a player and as a person since then,” he said of his miss against Italy.

“I wouldn’t have escalated the times Arsenal have kicked a penalty if I wasn’t confident, so if the time comes and I’m selected to kick a penalty, I’m more than happy to do so.

“To be honest, I personally feel like I’ve been trying to move on from that moment. Of course I know I can never really forget it, it will be in history.

“But at the same time, coming here and scoring those three goals obviously relieved me a lot. As I keep saying, the fan love I keep getting also lifts me up a lot.

Saka celebrates England’s third goal against Senegal (Martin Rickett/PA)

“It gives me a lot of confidence and I like seeing it from the fans.”

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

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

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

“When you’re shortlisted, it shows how much confidence the boss has in you, which gives you that extra confidence to come out and shine. We managed to do it last night.”

AFC Bournemouth v Arsenal – Premier League – Vitality Stadium

Saka says it ‘meant everything’ that Thierry Henry, pictured, was in touch after his heartbreak at Euro 2020 (Andrew Matthews/PA)

Saka also revealed that Thierry Henry, Arsenal’s all-time top scorer and World Cup winner in France, had been looking for him in the aftermath of Euro 2020.

“Thierry was in touch,” he said. “He meant everything, showed a lot of character for him to get my number and to contact me.

“It’s not just from that moment. After most of the games for Arsenal he comes back to me and he’s still so passionate about the club and he’s a fantastic person.”

Saka said he has never met former Gunners boss Arsene Wenger, but praised his influence, which is still felt at the club.

“One of my biggest regrets, well not regrets but things I couldn’t do, was meeting Arsene Wenger,” she added.

“I know how much my father loves him and how much everyone in the club loves him and I know what he has done for the club obviously.

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

“Obviously, on the pitch, they delivered and they were magnificent and they delivered silverware for Arsenal, so they’ll be legends, always.”

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