At this time last year, Kepa Arrizabalaga was about as far off the Chelsea radar as possible. The only reason we had even heard of the name was the brief interest shown in him by Real Madrid, but they eventually went for the cheaper, slitherier option in Thibaut Courtois and so it was Chelsea who paid the buyout clause on Kepa’s Athletic Bilbao contract — still a world record for a goalkeeper.
Other than such second mentions, we have hardly heard of that €80m fee since, and that’s perhaps the greatest indicator of the 24-year-old’s nearly immediate success and certainly good enough performances overall. There’s room for improvement, as there always is, but we’re off to a good start in what will hopefully prove a long and maybe even legendary relationship.
In more immediate matters, we have the Europa League final to contest, and while that hasn’t exactly been the toughest competition in terms of opponents faced, we do have Kepa to thank for getting us this far — as UEFA’s official Europa League social media accounts helpfully reminded us a few days ago, too.
And that highlights video only contains one of this two saves from the semifinal penalty shootout against Eintracht Frankfurt!
When speaking immediately afterwards, Kepa mostly and modestly chalked up his saves to luck. But of course such heroics don’t happen by accident. Petr Čech showed us that repeatedly back in the day, especially during the 2012 Champions League-winning run; now it’s Kepa’s turn.
“Sometimes penalties go your way and sometimes they don’t, but this time, I was very happy to have been able to help the team. I think that nowadays all goalkeepers do some analysis – a bit of research about possible penalty-takers and where they usually like to shoot.
“We have plenty of data available and you always take a look at things that might give you the edge. In situations like that, where not a lot is within your control, it can help to guide your decisions. I was really pleased to have been able to do that for the team.”
Just in this one season, Kepa has been involved in three shootouts already, winning two (Frankfurt, Spurs in League Cup semifinal) and losing one (Manchester City in the League Cup final). He’s made at least one save in each of the three — critics will tell you he should’ve saved even more, but let’s be reasonable — and he’s also saved one of the two penalties he faced in the Premier League (although Gylfi Sigurdsson then scored on the rebound). The sample size is small, but it’s an excellent record.
That said, hopefully we won’t have to rely on similar heroics on Wednesday.
“We believe we deserve to be here. Now we have to get over the last hurdle which is winning the title we have all been contesting for many matches. Both the fans and the players are relishing this match.
“It’s going to be another very difficult game, and a derby and a final, so anything could happen. We are going to train for every eventuality and we will go out there and fight for the title.”
-Kepa Arrizabalaga; source: Chelsea FC
Whatever the summer and next season may bring, it’s all about the Europa League final now. Kepa is ready to fight; we can only that the rest of the team will do the same!