Why Mikel Arteta got angry at Thomas Partey as Arsenal’s title hopes dealt huge blow
Prior to Sunday, all four of his spot kicks had come against ‘big six’ opponents – Chelsea, Manchester United, Liverpool and Manchester City. As he stepped up here in what was seemingly a much lower stakes game against West Ham, it seemed almost a foregone conclusion that he would score. Sadly for him for Arsenal it wasn’t meant to be.
With his record you probably would have bet your house on Saka scoring. Mikel Arteta probably would have joined you at the bookies too. “If I had to pick one player to do it, it would be him again,” the Spaniard said of his winger. This though is the brutal nature of being the penalty taker for a team in the title race. At some point, you’re going to suffer heartbreak.
Arteta was philosophical in his approach to this afterwards and challenged Saka to take responsibility again. “If you are prepared to take responsibility of penalties, you have to be prepared that in that package the possibility to miss is 100%,” the Spaniard said.
“At some point you’re going to miss. That’s it. You have be able to react to that after. If you cannot do that then you cannot be a penalty taker. Bukayo has been through that and he will go through that again.”
The Arsenal dressing room were all supportive of their teammate despite the miss, and in fairness to Saka he has moved quickly to own the incident by issuing an Instagram apology.
If there’s one player in this Arsenal side who doesn’t need to say sorry this season given his form, it’s Saka though. He’s done more than enough to earn one bad day at the office, and you’d back him to bounce back next week against Southampton as he already has done in his career so far.
Different week, same story
Two away games. Two away games Arsenal dominated for the first 35 minutes. Two away games where they were ultimately lucky to leave with a point. On paper last week’s draw at Anfield and this week’s one at the London Stadium look almost identical. The mood surrounding them though, could not be more different.
After the box office entertainment that was the 2-2 draw with Liverpool last week, Arsenal seemed on course for a far more routine sequel. The Gunners had raced into a two goal lead courtesy of a Gabriel Jesus tap in and Martin Odegaard’s volley within 10 minutes and were playing the glitzy football befitting of a red carpet. Then came the film we had all seen before.
Thomas Partey tried to flick the ball over Declan Rice, the man he could be competing for a starting spot next season with. The interception landed at the feet of Lucas Paqueta who cleverly forced his leg into the path of Gabriel’s desperate lunge. It was a momentary lapse in concentration, but Said Benrahma stepped up to ensure it was punished in the most brutal way possible.
From that point on it was almost a shot for shot remake of collapse at Anfield. Having been swimming serenely to three points Arsenal suddenly found themselves in the middle of a storm.
Symbolically, Partey, normally a hub of composure at the base of the Gunners midfield, was probably the most affected. He began giving the ball away time and again and one occasion in particular saw him receive a rollocking from Mikel Arteta who furiously instructed the Ghanaian to pick his head up in possession and find his cool.
He and the rest of the Arsenal team never managed though, and as Jarrod Bowen volleyed home the equaliser the parallels to last week were eery.
Speaking after the game though, Arteta didn’t quite see the similarity. “The pattern in terms of the result is different,” the Spaniard said when asked to compare the two matches in his post-match press conference. “In terms of what happens it was very different. But you have to accept that”
In many ways he is right. You can almost forgive that kind of swing at a ground like Anfield. The “jungle”-like atmosphere last Sunday meant there was almost a sense of inevitability to Liverpool’s comeback. This time around though, it was wholly avoidable.
The atmosphere did change after the first goal, but Arsenal should have had enough to drown out any embers of a West Ham comeback. Had Bukayo Saka scored his penalty before Bowen’s equaliser, then maybe they would have done, but instead of reacting positively to adversity as they have done most of this season, they retreated further into their shells. It was this that frustrated Arteta most at full time.
“We made a huge mistake to stop playing with the same purpose to score the third and fourth one and just thinking we could play around them and maintain the result and just looked too easy,” the Spaniard said. “At that moment we gave them hope. Credit to West Ham, they took it.
“There is another moment where you could go 3-1 up after 50 minutes and probably the game is over. Two minutes after that you concede the equaliser. This is part of football. My worry is after 2-0 that we made that huge mistake and didn’t understand what the game required in the moment.”