Who Took The Better Penalty This Week: Giroud or Özil?

I know this question sounds like a no-brainer or even rhetorical. Of course, it’s Giroud! Now, may I ask why? The honest answer would be: because he scored! The two penalties were taken the same way except Giroud placed it to the right while Özil went left. Both were low placement kicks with Özil’s being farther to the left than Giroud’s was to the right. Both tried to send the keeper the wrong way. One succeeded while the other failed.

Ricky Lambert said recently: “Penalty kicks are not complicated, just place the ball on the spot and kick it well”. This is not the exact quote but I have written the core of his point. Lambert is on point. One of the reasons why many (often gifted) players miss penalties is over-thinking and being too fancy. Penalty taking is probably the strangest footballing activity. It is, in my opinion, the easiest (as in requires the least effort) while usually having the most dramatic outcome.

I was a pretty poor footballer in my youth. I was never good at the game despite my best efforts. That fact is one of my life regrets. What I would have given to be described as a mediocre footballer! But one area that I excelled in was penalty taking. I used to enjoy the end of our “set” of games when we’d just have one-on-one penalty shoot outs, with the players also being the goalkeepers. Despite being even worse at goalkeeping than in outfield play, I rarely lose in those games. I belong to Ricky Lambert school of thought when it comes to penalties: kick it as hard and as far away from the goalkeeper as possible.

Let’s quickly go back to Giroud and Özil’s penalty kicks and the problem with them both. Every time a penalty taker kicks the ball low and within 2 metres of the goalkeeper, I wince. Every time I hear match commentators say: “he sent the keeper the wrong way”, I think to myself: “no, he was lucky that the player went the wrong way”. The same goes when goalies are showered with praise for saving penalties when they have only gone the “right way”. Readers that are familiar with my writing know my opinion on luck and its influence on success in football and virtually everything in life. There is no aspect of football where luck plays a bigger role than in penalty shoot outs. For anyone in doubt, may I remind you that Chelsea won the Champions’ league in the same season when they finished below Newcastle United in the Premier League! Giroud was lucky with his kick while Özil was unlucky with his.

There are basically 2 ways of taking penalties. There is the Ricky Lambert way, which is about force and precision; and the “tricky or cheeky” way, which is about sending the keeper the wrong way, lobbing over the keeper and other tricky skills. The latter is favoured by flair players and many of them have perfected it to devastating effects. Less skilful, or more appropriately, no-nonsense players prefer the former. Both methods have their merits and flaws. Tricky penalty kicks are a joy to behold when they come off. The problem is that they don’t always come off. And when they don’t, the taker always looks like a mug while probably feeling worse. Forceful and precise penalties on the other hand are bland to watch and they could also come off the post or go wide. But they mostly go in.

By calculation of chance, the forceful penalty is better than the tricky one. Penalties taken with pace and placed as far away from the goalie as possible but not too close to the goal post are the best because they go in all the time. Smashing the ball into the top right or left corner is also brutally effective with the same drawback. Personally, I prefer the forcefully and precisely taken penalty and not just because they are more likely to go in but because their misses are usually easier to stomach and the taker looks less silly. While the effect is never less devastating (depending on what’s at stake), it’s a little easier to let go of a penalty that come of the post or missed the target by a few inches. I know how mad I get when the keeper goes the right way and the ball bounces off his chest or he just grabs the lobbed ball. In the end, the objective is to get the ball into the net. Beautiful penalties don’t count for 2 and bland ones don’t count for ½.

Forceful and precise penalties require conviction. Conviction comes from practice. Penalties like this require lots of practice in order to be able to get it right every time. Ricky Lambert’s unblemished record gives the impression that despite his modesty, he practices his kicks. He reminds me (and I am sure, the many Naija Gooners reading this) of the late Nigerian legendary striker: Rashidi Yekini. He was also reputed to have never missed a penalty. His style was power and precision. Conversely, another Nigerian great that we are all familiar with, Nwankwo Kanu, is notorious for missing penalty kicks! He, as we all know, is a flair player. No other player epitomises the folly of tricky penalty kicks more than Kanu. Many of his misses were just plain embarrassing!

Back to Özil and Giroud’s penalties and the debate that they have generated, I think Özil played the better penalty because it was farther from the goalkeeper than Giroud’s. Mandanda had to stretch to stop it. Had it been hit with more force, it might have gone in and would then be classified as great by the same people criticising him. Olly was fortunate that Boruc went the wrong way as the ball would have bounced off his chest if he had guessed right. His penalty against Fenerbahce at Istanbul on the other hand, is the real deal.

The point of this piece is not to knock Giroud or kiss Özil’s butt. I almost copyrighted the phrase: “I feel good about Giroud” during pre-season when many were salivating over Higuain. I have also commented against the talking point that Arsenal’s season has only been going well because of Özil. I love both players as I do anyone who wears the Arsenal shirt. Being revisionist in order to over praise flukey achievements while knocking unfortunate errors is where I differ from most. Özil’s penalty loss was partially tempered by the fact that it shouldn’t have been in the first place. We were spared the unnecessary tag of “controversial” being attached to our well earned victory.

My hope is that we continue to get our deserved penalties in all competitions and that they regularly get smashed in with power and precision.