Aaron Ramsdale has backed Bukayo Saka to step up and take a penalty for England at the World Cup after praising his Arsenal team-mate for his “impeccable” response to the fallout from his heartbreak at Euro 2020.
Having missed the deciding penalty in the final shootout defeat to Italy, Saka was subjected to racist abuse – as were Jadon Sancho and Marcus Rashford, who were also unsuccessful from the spot.
Saka has scored every spot-kick he has taken for Arsenal since his Wembley miss, including in big games against Chelsea, Manchester United and Liverpool.
Asked if he felt Saka would still take one for England, Ramsdale replied: “Absolutely. He is three from three since that day.
“I think he has realised it was just something that happened to him and he would not shy away from that because he is that type of person. He knows the feeling now and hopefully next time he steps up he can put the ball in the back of the net.”
The respective club form of Ramsdale and Saka – along with defender Ben White – means the Gunners have three representatives in Gareth Southgate’s World Cup squad.
Saka has certainly let his football do the talking as he ended last season as Arsenal’s top goalscorer and has so far this year been one of their standout players as they sit five points clear at the Premier League summit.
“Impeccably, probably,” Ramsdale replied when asked how he felt Saka had handled the miss and subsequent abuse last year.
“The kid’s a lovely boy, he has time for everyone, works super hard throughout every week. Very, very rarely misses a training session and used all that motivation of criticism but also more so the love that everyone gave him, gave him an extra boost.
“Don’t forget he had the pressure of the whole football club on him last year – him and Emile Smith Rowe were our main guys – and he has dealt with that, he’s dealt with everything else. He is thriving and I can’t wait to see him thrive
Ramsdale went on to say there was “no doubt” that Saka was now a stronger character “off the pitch and on it” since the incident and that it has made him a “more complete person”.
“When we missed out on the top four, he felt like it was all his fault because he couldn’t provide for us,” added Ramsdale.
“I was just able to reflect that the season before they finished eighth, this season we finished fifth, and if we go another step again we will be in the top four. It’s that perspective of: it’s a game of football and there’s a lot more to it.”
While he has backed Saka to be a success from the spot, Ramsdale also revealed England are not planning to practise penalties against their goalkeeping contingent for fear of the trio becoming too good at saving them and lowering confidence among the takers.
“We haven’t done any with goalkeepers at the minute, we have something which is called a skills net where the corners are open,” he said.
“At the moment I think the lads are just working on sort of the technique. I think it can become detrimental if they are taking them against goalkeepers because we then start to know where they are going.
“We can start to gamble a little bit, especially when we don’t want to get scored on all the time. So, the later rounds, I think we’ll start seeing them introduced into more pressurised ones with the goalkeepers.
“If I know where you are going seven times out of 10 and I start cheating and going early and start saving them, you might start worrying about it. Start by aiming at where you are going to go in the skills net, take a couple against the
goalkeeper and we go from there.
“Because everybody can take penalties, it is just those fine pressure margins which we can’t recreate out there unfortunately.”
Ramsdale’s father became a cult figure in the All or Nothing: Arsenal documentary that aired on Amazon earlier this year – his expletive-laden reactions to on-field action showing how tight the family unit is.
“There was definitely a few tears shed from him,” Ramsdale said when he told his dad he was in the squad.
“I think if I actually make it on the pitch, he might not return home. He might have a heart attack.
“It’s special for my family, especially for my mum and dad who have drove up and down the country, flying me around the world. He won’t have any nails left, let’s put it that way.”
Gallagher ‘a little bit surprised’ to be called up
Conor Gallagher wants to make the most of his surprise spot in England’s World Cup squad after admitting he is fortunate to be in Qatar.
Gallagher has played 18 times in all competitions for Chelsea this season but has only made eight starts.
A lack of minutes saw the Chelsea midfielder drop back into the England U21s squad in September, adding to his sense of surprise when he got a message on the physio bed last Thursday that he was in Southgate’s World Cup squad.
“I didn’t really expect it, but obviously I was hoping there was a chance,” Gallagher said.
“I kept hope and when I got the text I was so proud and honoured.
“I told my dad first. Always. He’d always be the first person I’d tell that amazing news to because he’s my biggest fan, and my biggest inspiration.”
Asked if he feels a bit lucky to be in the squad given the competition, he said: “Yeah, like I said, I was a little bit surprised.
“I’ve not played consistent football with Chelsea and as a team, Chelsea have not played great this season – we’ve definitely got a lot to improve and I am sure we will.
“But I am very grateful and honoured that the England manager has showed his belief in me and saw what I can do when I’ve played for Chelsea this season and obviously last season as well.”