Every month we bring you the complete Gunners guide to various techniques that make up the beautiful game. This month we take an in-depth look at scoring from 12 yards.
Some players would be happy with 12 goals in total during a season – in 1986/87 Martin Hayes scored that many purely from the penalty spot.
The Gunners were actually awarded 15 spot kicks that season in all competitions, all but one of which were taken by the left winger, who converted 12 times from 12 yards.It remains a club record for penalties scored in a season, and accounted for 50 per cent of his total return that year – when he top scored during George Graham’s first season in charge.
“I do look back at that season proudly.” Martin says. “I think I was the last home- grown player to score more than 20 goals in a season. There are certain things that you look back on with a bit of pride, having come through the ranks. But away from those 12 penalties I scored, I still remember the ones I missed that year. One was at West Ham – I missed the first one and had to take it again, and I scored the second one.”
Nine of Martin’s dozen spot kicks came in Division One, two in the FA Cup and one in the victorious League Cup campaign. The former England Under-21 man recalls a penalty at the Dell in a 4-0 win which took Arsenal top of the league in November as a particular favourite.
"I remember the ones that I missed more, because I was more gutted about that"
“Yes, I remember one at Southampton that I finished quite well. The game was quite edgy at times and we got a penalty, which I put high to the goalkeeper’s right. That calmed things down a bit and I think we won 4-0 in the end. That was one that I remember being quite nice.
“You remember how many you took in a season but you find it hard to remember all the individual penalties. In all honesty, as I said, I remember the ones that I missed more, because I was more gutted about that.
“I missed one at Watford in a game that we lost, which was a bad result. I remember not striking it properly, the goalie went the right way and saved it. Sometimes strikers remember the chances they missed rather than the ones they put away.” Martin explains that he often took penalties in youth football, but it was almost by accident that he became Arsenal’s first-choice penalty taker in 1986, when he was still only 20 years old.
“When I came in to the Arsenal side, the regular penalty takers weren’t playing and it was a case of who wanted to take it,” he reveals. “I put my hand up and volunteered, because it went quiet for a while. I wasn’t expecting one in the first game though, and then pretty much every week afterwards!”
Confidence, then, is clearly one of the attributes needed to be a successful penalty taker, and Martin says that decisiveness is also vital when taking a spot kick.
“I decided to place mine – I went for accuracy, more than power. You have to make your mind up about where you’re placing it as early as you can. You’ve got to stick to that and make the shot as accurate as possible. I’ve always admired players that can strike a ball with power and be accurate. That’s a great skill to have, because it’s so easy to not catch it right and end up putting it wide or skying it. I liked to side-foot mine and try and hit the side- netting. If you do that, the ‘keeper is never getting there.
"When you put them right in the corner with a little bit of pace, it doesn’t matter if the ‘keeper guesses the right way, because he won’t save it"
“When you put them right in the corner with a little bit of pace, it doesn’t matter if the ‘keeper guesses the right way, because he won’t save it.
“I had taken them as a young lad,” he continues. “You always had fun penalty competitions after training but you really can’t re-enact that moment in a game. Take a shoot-out for example – these players have been out there for two hours, their muscles are aching and they have put a lot of work in.
“Sometimes you have your own fans behind the goal already celebrating and sometimes you get the opposition fans trying to put you off. The opposition will walk up and say things to try and put you off and those are things that you really can’t practice on a training ground.”
The psychological element is huge, he argues. Even the most technically accomplished players sometimes struggle with the pressure of a penalty kick.
“It’s definitely psychological,” Martin says. “It can depend on what stage of the game too. If you have to take one towards the end of the match with the game level or your team a goal down, it can get in your head if you think of the situation too much. You see that with golf and darts players when they get the twitch sometimes. You know that if you miss, it might lead to the team dropping points. You have to block that out of your mind and hit your penalty properly. If you worry too much, the goal can seem smaller and the goalkeeper bigger.
“I enjoyed taking penalties to start with but later on it sort of grew into a monster. You were scoring a lot of goals, it became discussed a lot and you suddenly became this specialist. It grew into a bit of a monster and a burden, because you were expected to score.”
And currently, whose penalty-taking skills does Martin – who scored 34 times in total in 132 appearances for Arsenal between 1985 and 1990 – particularly appreciate?“I admire the players that come up, watch the ‘keeper and then place it the other way to where they move. Leighton Baines missed one recently but he’s been a reliable penalty taker in the past. You see someone like Yaya Toure and he just walks up slowly, watches the ‘keeper and confidently rolls it in. You want the goalie to move first and they are trying to stay up for as long as possible.”
Talking of confidence, that’s something Martin has clearly retained to this day. Now aged 48, the former Dover Athletic manager says he would still back himself to score a penalty to win the cup for Arsenal.
“Yeah I would,” he says with a smile. “I missed a penalty in the semi-final against Everton in 1988. I was gutted because I went past Neville Southall and he brought me down. Nowadays, that would be a red card but then it wasn’t even a booking. I got up and put it over at the North Bank end. Although we went through, when we were in the final, I was off the penalties and replaced by Nigel [Winterburn]. Going back, it would have been nice to take a penalty for Arsenal in a cup final.”
Five of the best Arsenal penalties
Peter StoreyArsenal 2-2 Stoke CityMarch 27, 1971FA Cup Arsenal had trailed Stoke 2-0 in the 1971 FA Cup semi-final at Hillsborough. Peter Storey pulled on back early in the second half and then, in injury-time, was handed the opportunity to level from the penalty spot after John Mahoney had handled on the line. The hardman midfielder kept his nerve and tucked the ball home low to Gordon Banks’ left to salvage a replay and keep the double dream alive.
Alan Smith Arsenal 3-1 Manchester UnitedMay 6, 1991 Division One Arsenal had been confirmed as champions earlier in the day, so this game against United at Highbury turned into a title- winning party. In the second half the referee awarded a penalty for handball, and with Alan Smith on a hat-trick and chasing the Golden Boot, regular penalty taker Lee Dixon gave him the opportunity from 12 yards. He made no mistake, thumping the ball into the top corner for his 21st league goal of the season. He scored one more on the final day of the season to secure the coveted Golden Boot.
Patrick Vieira Arsenal 0-0 Manchester UnitedMay 21, 2005 FA Cup The spot kick which won the 2005 FA Cup final. Having played out a forgettable goalless draw at the Millennium Stadium, Arsenal and Manchester took part in the first ever FA Cup final penalty shootout. Lauren, Freddie Ljungberg, Robin van Persie and Ashley Cole had all found the net, with Jens Lehmann saving from Paul Scholes. It meant captain Patrick Vieira had the chance to claim the cup with the final penalty. Roy Carroll guessed the right way, but Vieira’s firmly struck shot nestled in the net to send the Gunners fans into raptures. It proved to be Vieira’s last kick in an Arsenal shirt.
Lauren Arsenal 2-1 Tottenham HotspurApril 6, 2002Premier League Arsenal came into this late-season north London derby at Highbury needing a win to return to the top of the table. They were on course for the three points until Teddy Sheringham scored an 81st-minute penalty. Five minutes later though Thierry Henry was fouled in the area, and as per his superstition when he won a spot kick, the French striker handed the responsibility away. The unflappable Lauren stepped up, and he rolled the ball down the centre of the goal as Kasey Keller dived to his left. Arsenal stayed top, and four games later were champions.
Thierry Henry Arsenal 4-2 Wigan AthleticMay 7, 2006 Premier League A particularly poignant penalty. The last ever game at Highbury, and the last goal ever scored there. Arsenal led 3-2, chasing a win to secure a Champions League place, when Freddie Ljungberg was hauled down inside the area in front of the North Bank. Thierry Henry, who scored more goals at Highbury than anyone else, slotted his penalty low to the keeper’s right to seal the win and complete another hat-trick. After the ball hit the back of the net, Henry kneeled and kissed the Highbury turf. The celebrations could then begin in earnest.
The expert view: Steve Morrow
Former Arsenal and Northern Ireland midfielder, Steve Morrow has also managed in America’s Major League Soccer, is a UEFA A qualified coach and has worked as a match analyst for Arsenal.com. Now head of recruitment for the Arsenal Academy, he is involved with youth player development globally for the club.
I remember coming through the Arsenal youth team myself and there were people like Martin Hayes and Lee Dixon who were great penalty takers.
"It’s about mental strength and character as much as anything else"
I often used to wonder what their secret was! I think a lot of it is down to practice. When you have practiced a lot and have made up your mind how you want to do it, penalty takers will then usually have a certain technique which they like to stick with. But I’m a great believer in it all coming down to what happens on the day. It’s about mental strength and character as much as anything else.
When I was coach at FC Dallas I remember being involved in a situation in MLS going into a play off game. Two of the players didn’t want to take penalties at the end of the game because they had missed in training down the day before. So a lot of it comes down to the particular day, and having confidence at the time when you need to take the spot kick.
You have to shut out what is going on around you, and penalties are very much a pressurized situation.
Having said all that, I think hitting the ball high and hard into the corners is the best way to attempt a penalty. There are different approaches – some hit it down the middle, some wait for the keeper to move. Personally I think it’s best to make up your mind, pick a corner and hit it there as hard as you can.
A lot of it is down to individual preference, and as a coach you have to give confidence to players, and then leave it to them.
on the perfect penalty… The perfect penalty is the penalty that is a goal! After that, there are some rules that you try to respect, but it is a bit like a dribble – everybody has his own way to do it. I believe in two things – I don’t like short run ups. I like it when you have a decent run to the ball, from the edge of the box. I don’t like people who stop, look at the goalkeeper and wait until they move. I feel you need a certain power to score. You think that if a goalkeeper goes to the right side, if you hit it properly, you still score. I think Arteta is a perfect penalty taker. He resists the pressure, is relaxed and focused, and I think only Schwarzer has saved from him, because he is very tall and guessed where the ball was going. Overall, he’s a very reliable one.
What advice he gives penalty takers... The usual advice to the players is to choose a corner, take a decent run, look at the goalkeeper for as long as you can, and then try to hit it as strongly as possible, with security in the corner you have chosen. Some players look at the ‘keeper for as long as they can but don’t have a decent run, and in the end, their shot can lack power. If the ‘keeper doesn’t move until the very last moment, the taker can miss the penalty.The best non-Arsenal penalty taker he’s seen... I think Robin van Persie is good at penalties as well.
Where he would put his penalty... I would put it to the left of the goalkeeper. It naturally suited me but you try to wait as long as possible. What I tried is to choose a corner, sometimes I went to the right as well, and tried to hide for as long as I could where I would hit the ball.
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