Mikel Arteta paid homage to Bukayo Saka for the courage he showed in taking responsibility for the last-minute penalty that sealed Arsenal’s stunning 4-2 win against Chelsea.
Hauled to the turf by Cesar Azpilicueta in the final minute at Stamford Bridge, the winger first ignored a barrage of abuse from the Blues captain, who disagreed with the decision, and then put to one side the painful memories of the summer, when he missed the decisive spot-kick in the European Championships final, to hammer home from 12-yards.
Facing the press after the match, Arteta admitted that when the dust settled on the situation, he wasn’t expecting the 20-year-old to be the one standing over the spot-kick.
“No, I thought that Gabi [Martinelli] was going to take it,” said the Spaniard.
“When I saw that Bukayo took it, honestly, the first thing I thought was back to the summer and what happened [in the Euro 2020 final against Italy].
“Again, I said to you guys, when that [his miss] happened to Bukayo it happened for a reason, he learned so much and he’s matured so much. That’s why he’s having the season he’s having.
“For him to have to the courage to say, ‘I’m going to take this’ – because I’m sure it was in the back of his mind – for me, it’s chapeau [hat’s off], even if he missed it.”
After three consecutive defeats, the win at Stamford Bridge ensures the Gunners head into next weekend’s action level on points with Sp*rs having played the same number of games. Everything is to play for and the boss insists his players won’t give up on their dream of playing Champions League football.
“They have been really disappointed because they have the hope,” he said of the last few days.
“They can see it there, that after a long time for the club they can see that we can achieve it, and it’s there for the taking.
“You get one disappointment, two, even the third one you say we don’t deserve to lose the matches, why? We had 23 shots, they had two and we are losing matches.
“For some of them it’s difficult to understand, but the guy who invented this game, he wanted to make us suffer. Because when you expect something, something different happens, and this is the beauty and why we are all here probably.”
Arteta was also quick to praise the way his players implemented various tactical shifts throughout the game. The Gunners started with a three-man backline and wingbacks before switching to a flat back four as they sought to gain an advantage over Thomas Tuchel and the German’s own in-game tinkering.
“We tried to simplify it as much as possible,” said Arteta.
“It was still complicated because it was in attack to something, in defending high it was to do something, in deep it was to do something, in deep it was something different if they were doing something different.
“That’s the game, and that’s the way the game is evolving, and that’s what this type of management demands you to do, and if you are unable to do that, it’s difficult to control the match.”