Saka shows courage way beyond his years

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The former England and Arsenal goalkeeper is full of praise for Bukayo Saka after his performance against Switzerland, but says the Three Lions must improve when they play the Netherlands on Wednesday.

I’m delighted that England have reached another semi-final.

The performance against Switzerland was a little bit better that the last three or four games, but let’s not get carried away. We’ve still got so much more to come – there’s no doubt about that. I said at the start of the tournament that it’s all about peaking at the right time, and we are getting better.

It’s slow progress, but we’re in the semi-finals and need to get behind the team, and get behind Gareth Southgate because he’s doing a fantastic job. It’s the third semi-final that we’ve been to under his leadership.

Gareth has experienced criticism, he’s had cups thrown at him, which was a disgrace, and he just soldiers on. Behind Sir Alf Ramsey, he’s been the next best thing.

Saka showed incredible courage

Bukayo Saka’s penalty against Switzerland brought back so many memories of Stuart Pearce. Stuart received a lot of stick after missing at Italia 90, and Saka went through a lot more than that, obviously, with the racial abuse he experienced. What he and the other players endured was disgraceful, but he’s shown the courage of a man that’s way beyond his years.

You can see that experience of missing in the Euro 2020 final has made him stronger. The fact that he stood up and took penalties for Arsenal straight away also showed the courage of the man. It seems weird, calling him a man, because I see him at the Arsenal training ground and he still looks like so young!

It wasn’t just about the penalty – his whole performance in the game, and at the tournament so far, has been brilliant. He’s a real ambassador for football, and shows people the way to be a footballer.

His goal showed why he plays on the right. He can cut in and shoot from long range with his left foot, and he can also go down the right-hand side and cross it. Bukayo has played all over the place, and the fact that his position has been changed so much means he deserves even more credit.

He’s gone to the left side, and they’ve even spoken about him playing at left-back, which I’m not a massive fan of, and hopefully that’s going to be taken care of now with Luke Shaw coming back.

Two changes I’d make against Netherlands

It’s a big plus that Shaw is back, and I thought he looked really good when he came on and influenced that game. It was good to see him passing down the wing with his left foot – we’ve not done that for quite a while!

Whether Shaw starts depends on his fitness, but I would start him, and if he gets tired or injured then you can bring Kieran Trippier on. If you brought Shaw on as a substitute and then he got injured, you would have no replacement.

It would be a massive game to miss for Trippier, but I think Shaw suits the balance of the team better. I would also bring Marc Guehi back into the defence after his suspension. Ezri Konsa was great against Switzerland and did his job, but Guehi has been fantastic for the whole tournament.

Toney’s penalties are so tough to stop

Jordan Pickford’s water bottle made the headlines, but something about coaches telling you which way to dive doesn’t sit right with me. I would want to make my own mind up.

If you’ve got a bottle telling you to dive to your left, what if he puts it to your right? I would be fuming! It turned out in Jordan’s favour, though. I never had all this research that they do now, where they know about penalties that players took years ago, and which side they went to. If I was an outfield player, I’d make sure I swapped sides as a penalty taker just so that nobody would know which way I was going to go.

I was so impressed by England’s penalties, though. Penalties like Ivan Toney’s are the hardest ones to save. I remember Ronald Koeman, the Netherlands manager, being the first one to do it, and it’s a brilliant way to take a penalty.

I used to mess about taking them in training, and it was so hard – although I was a goalkeeper! Sometimes you’d totally miskick the ball because you’re trying to wait for the keeper to make the move. The beauty of what Toney does is that even when the goalkeeper doesn’t move – and then guesses the right way – the power he gets to put it in the corner is amazing.

The quality of all the penalties was brilliant. It just shows the preparation they have put into it, and I understand that Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink has had a lot to do with it. They’ve focused on practicing penalties and putting as much pressure on the lads as possible in training. I’ve always said the key is to not change your mind. Practice hitting a side, and then never change your mind at the last minute, because that’s normally when it gets saved.

Memories of facing the Netherlands

Next up is a Koeman’s Dutch team, and they are always organised. I remember playing Netherlands in 1993 when they knocked us out of World Cup qualification, and then in Euro 96, in that fantastic 4-1 win.

Before that tournament, we would watch videos of Holland at every squad get-together, because Terry Venables thought they were a side who set the bar really high. He knew there was a chance we would end up playing them, and then they were drawn in our group. The performance that came from our preparation was incredible, and what made it even sweeter was that the goal I let in knocked Scotland out of the tournament!

England will go into this game as favourites, and we should win, but we have got to keep improving. You can’t expect to take the last few performances into this game and expect to win.

Calafiori would improve Arsenal

Arsenal have been linked with Bologna defender Riccardo Calafiori, and that would be another improvement to the squad. William Saliba and Gabriel don’t get replaced in the starting line-up, but if Calafiori comes in it’s more competition for places, and depth in case of injury.

Arsenal learned a tough lesson when Saliba was out two seasons ago. We missed him massively, and Takehiro Tomiyasu was injured at that time so Ben White couldn’t move to centre-back.

Whether the club need to sell one or two defenders will be on Mikel Arteta’s mind now. It’s tough to say who might leave – Kieran Tierney is injured again and might be out for a while with a bad hamstring injury. As much as you want to continue buying players, you now have to balance the books with the profit and sustainability rules.

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