There have been few Chelsea players who have come under as much criticism as Kepa Arrizabalaga in recent times. Our number one goalkeeper and club-record signing has undoubtedly had a disappointing season, but it remains to be seen whether the transfer rumors will prove true regarding his future at the club and in Frank Lampard’s plans.
Kepa however has continuously maintained his firm intentions to stay at Stamford Bridge, which he’s done so again in a recent interview with Marca.
Other topics included the current pandemic and the efforts to restart football, his legacy at and possible eventual return to Athletic Bilbao, his university studies (sports science), and last year’s “mutiny” against Sarri about which he had nothing new to say.
The interview does make for an interesting read, as it gives a bit of insight into a player who isn’t the most vocal in public.
But what we’re most interested in are his thoughts about the way his season’s turned out. His form looked to be back on the rise with back-to-back clean sheets just before COVID-19 put a stop to everything, and he credits his own dedication to work his way back into the starting lineup after getting dropped for six straight.
“Those two matches were good victories over Liverpool and Everton, where we had a clean sheet. We were in positive form. […] I hope we will return and continue the good streak.
“We play 50 to 60 games during the season and it’s hard to keep yourself at the same level of play. The important thing is to have a clear objective, work and dedicate all of myself to it. The road might be rocky but when you have a clear objective, it’s much easier. The only thing I could do, in these cases, was take it with professionalism, respect, and work harder to overcome it.”
Despite speculation about a frosty relationship, Kepa has no harsh feelings about Frank Lampard, and claims he has a good connection with the head coach.
In fact, he believes that Lampard’s ambition and winning mentality is something that needs to be imbued in the team as well, to replicate the successes of Chelsea teams past.
“My relationship with Frank is very good. He’s shown confidence in me since the first moment. He has to make decisions, but I feel that I have his confidence — his and everyone else’s in the team.”
“It’s true that over the last 10 years, Chelsea is the English team that has won the most titles, and I believe we need to have this kind of ambition. In fact, I came here for that and in my debut season we won the Europa League. We have a young team. Although there was the transfer ban that impeded us from making signs, we have to keep fighting for titles.
“I want to win everything with Chelsea and the Spanish national team.”
When Kepa arrived for a world record fee for a goalkeeper of €80m, expectations were naturally high, perhaps naturally too high — especially when the player he will forever be compared to, Alisson Becker who cost just a few million less, has become the world’s best.
But while Kepa’s statistics haven’t been great, certainly not this season, one area where he’s definitely excelled has been penalties. His saves in shootouts were critical in Chelsea getting to the League Cup and Europa League finals last season, and while we only managed to win one of those, the 25-year-old is already building a solid reputation in this regard (much like his current backup, Willy Caballero).
“Stopping shots is the most important thing, although nowadays football values goalkeepers who play with their feet a lot. It’s clear that the more aspects of the game you dominate, the better you will be as a goalkeeper.
“Yes, [penalties] is one aspect of the game that I feel comfortable with. I like it. For example, it happened during both of the semifinals last season.
“Diego Alves, the Valencia goalkeeper, had a very high percentage of stops [so] I spoke with [Valencia and Spain goalkeeping coach] Ochotorena to find out what his secret was. On the other hand, Cristiano and Messi haven’t taken penalties against me yet.”
-Kepa Arrizabalaga; source: Marca
Perhaps one day we’ll be lucky enough (and good enough) to find out.
Chelsea have made a massive investment in Kepa, and it’s just as unlikely as it is unfeasible to pull the plug on that project after just two seasons (in which the lows have certainly been blown out of proportion).
While plenty of questions remain, Kepa’s certainly saying all the right words. Give him a bit of competition and a bit of support, and we may yet get the best out of Spain’s number one goalkeeper.