Whether Arsenal and their fans are genuinely disappointed to have left the Europa League or not, it has happened.
Of course, Mikel Arteta’s team did not lose at Sporting Lisbon in the round of 16 of the competition this week, they drew 3-3 on aggregate. As a result, the tie was decided by that classic 1970s invention, the penalty shootout.
Shootouts are one of those elements of football where fans can get a reasonable idea of their team’s record and can usually remember infamous moments from elsewhere – John Terry slipping in the rain in Moscow in 2008, perhaps – but other than that, it’s a pretty nebulous notion. “Oh, (insert team name) is terrible at penalties,” someone might say. But is this really the case?
We’ve dug into the full penalty shootout story to try and find out the truth.
Let’s start with volume, where the main thing to note is that being either a team that plays regularly in European competition or a team that has spent a lot of time in the EFL is advantageous. Chelsea led the way having been involved in 33 shootouts, five more than any other club currently in the Premier League.
The method has been painful for them recently, losing to Liverpool on penalties in the Carabao Cup and FA Cup finals last season, despite starting their 2021-22 campaign by winning the Super Cup. Europe on penalties against Villarreal.
And the climax of the 2012 Champions League final in Munich was also very good.
The second most experienced club in shootouts comes a little further afield in West London – Brentford. Their list of opponents in these penalty duels is understandably less glamorous than Chelsea’s, but frequent play-off and EFL Trophy experience has subjected them to 28 penalty shoot-outs, one more than Liverpool.
Brentford also have the honor of being the current Premier League team to first keep a clean sheet in a shootout (is that a thing? It should be). It came in an EFL Trophy (then known as the Leyland DAF Cup) game against Wrexham in February 1991 when – after 120 minutes without a goal in front of 2,247 souls at Griffin Park – Brentford won 3-0 on kicks . You won’t hear This in a Disney+ documentary.
And while we’re on the subject of shootout shutouts, Manchester City’s top flight, with David James and Nedum Onuoha in the side and Micah Richards on the bench, suffered the ignominy of a 3-0 penalty shootout loss to at Third Division Doncaster Rovers 18 years ago. Times may have changed, but Donnie fans will still have the second round of the 2004-05 EFL Cup.
Meanwhile, the least experienced Premier League team in shootouts is Aston Villa, who have only ever featured in nine. They had two memorable ones in 1994: first at home to Tranmere Rovers in February’s EFL Cup semi-finals after an all-time classic of a tie that ended 5-5 on aggregate, then in September when from the home game against Inter Milan (the defending champions) to the first round of the old UEFA Cup (the current Europa League), participation in this competition their price for winning the EFL Cup.
At least Dennis Bergkamp scored his penalty for Inter in that shootout – something he couldn’t do with his no-shootout effort for Arsenal against Manchester United at Villa Park in a replay of the half. FA Cup final almost five years later.
But more important than being In a shootout wins him.
Surely there is no event less apt for the phrase “participation is what counts” than the penalty shootout. Congratulations, then, to Nottingham Forest who, as well as winning the European Cup twice, as you may have heard, have an 83 per cent win rate when games go to penalties. As noted above, their tally of 12 is second lowest to Villa, but winning 10 of those 12 is still exceptional.
It’s even more exceptional when you learn that Forest lost the shootout they took part in – 5-4 to the Airdrieonians in a Texaco Cup tie in September 1970. Nobody wants to leave the Texaco Cup like that , Clive. But since that dark day, Forest have won 10 out of 11, only failing against Bristol City in an EFL (then LDV Vans) Trophy game when they were in Ligue 1 in 2006.
And, in case you were wondering, none of Forest’s 12 shootings happened during the Brian Clough era. Which seems right, sort of.
At the other end of the joy spectrum are Newcastle United, with a rather dismal 27% win rate.
Newcastle began their shootout odyssey with a 5-3 loss to Hungarian Pecsi MSC in the 1970-71 Fairs Cup, which must have been frustrating after knocking out Inter Milan in the previous round. They bounced back a year later with a shootout win over Hearts, you guessed it, the Texaco Cup, but then began a run of seven successive shootout losses between 1979 and 2003. The only current Premier League club to To have equaled this kind of losing streak are Tottenham Hotspur, between 1996 and 2013.
Newcastle have won two of their last three shootouts though, so perhaps Wolves and Crystal Palace, just above them in the (lack of) success chart, should be worried.
And we should probably offer some sort of prize to Fulham and Southampton who both have a 50% penalty success rate. For people who like to use phrases like “it’s a lottery” or compare shootouts to a coin toss (coincidentally, what it’s replaced in football), any club with an equal number of losses and of victories must be respected.
Finally, if you were wondering who took part in the first ever penalty shootout involving an English club, and if it was Manchester United against Hull City in the Watney Cup in August 1970, and if George Best took the first penalty, and if Ian McKechnie saved from Denis Law but then missed the game-winning kick himself, then congratulations. You were there.
Unlike Ian McKechnie.
(Photo: James Williamson – AMA/Getty Images)