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Champions League: Arteta’s tactical gamble that sent Arsenal to Porto penalty shootout glory

Robin Bairner
Mikel Arteta, Arsenal,, 2023/24
© IMAGO

Arsenal progressed to the Champions League quarter-finals with a win on penalties against Porto – though the odds said that they shouldn’t have.

Gunners fans were probably not aware as the shootout started that the odds were stacked in the favour of the guests. Mikel Arteta, though, likely was.

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Neither of his goalkeepers is anything like a penalty-saving specialist.

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On the other hand, Porto keeper Diogo Costa is. Linked with Manchester United before they signed Andre Onana last summer, the 24-year-old had saved nine of the 29 spot kicks he had faced as a senior keeper at the Portuguese club. That’s an impressive 31%, well above average.

Arteta, meanwhile, had to gamble. Which of his goalkeepers did he back? Should he make a late substitution in extra-time to replace David Raya with Aaron Ramsdale?

Ramsdale, after all, is considered to be a better shot-stopper than the Spaniard, with the former favoured instead for his skills when the ball is at his feet.

In the end, Arteta did nothing.

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David Raya and Aaron Ramsdale at Arsenal training
© IMAGO – David Raya and Aaron Ramsdale at Arsenal training

Arsenal and Raya beat the odds

Raya’s penalty record in senior club football is unimpressive. He has saved only three of 32 previous kicks during normal time. Put into context, that’s little over 9%, or around a third of that Costa in the Porto goal. His manager would have known.

But Arteta would also have been aware that Ramsdale’s record is even worse. The former Bournemouth keeper has saved only one penalty from the 21 he has faced at club level, and that was way back in 2019/20, when he stopped a Danny Ings effort in an empty stadium during the Covid era.

Apparently stuck between a rock and a hard place, the Arsenal manager left Raya to it. After all, he had denied Said Benrahma from the spot earlier this season in a clash with West Ham.

The on-loan Brentford keeper did him proud. Diving to his left, he made an incredible save to tip Wendell’s penalty onto the post, nearly stopped a firm effort from Marko Grujic and leapt to block from Galeno in what was the decisive action.

There has been much spotlight on both Raya and Arteta due to his faith in him this season, yet on this occasion, Arsenal were richly paid off.

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