Kepa Arrizabalaga joined Chelsea from Athletic Bilbao for a world record €80 million last summer, following the infamoussss departure of Thibaut Courtois. While Kepa was pretty well known and highly rated in Spain, with a move to Real Madrid falling through a few months prior, in January, more than a few eyebrows were raised that Chelsea would be willing to (panic) spend such a humongous amount on a relative unknown.
That his transfer fee hardly got any air time or column inches, shows just how consistent Kepa’s performances have been this season, starting with a debut clean sheet, all the way through the Europa League final. While there’s room for improvement — and Chelsea made a concerted effort to give him as much playing time as remotely possible to aid in that regard — and the “incident”/”misunderstanding” in the League Cup final will not be forgotten for a while, it’s been an excellent first season for the 24-year-old at Stamford Bridge. One could even argue he’s been the most consistent part of a rather inconsistent team that still managed to end up with a European trophy, the first silverware for Kepa at club level, which clearly delighted him to no end.
“We are absolutely thrilled to have won this trophy, one that we have been training hard for since the very start of the season. We went into the competition hoping to win it, and our objective became clearer and clearer with every round. We always saw this as a fantastic opportunity for us – a European title is a European title – and I think it has been the perfect conclusion to a season that we had already finished strongly.
“At the end of the day, we reached two cup finals and came third in the league. All we can do each year is fight to perform as well as we can in all the competitions we’re in, and we have shown our ability to do that.”
The Europa League final against Arsenal was Chelsea’s 63rd and Kepa’s 54th game of the season. He kept a clean sheet in 23 of those — only Jan Oblak, Alisson, and Ederson kept more in Europe’s top five leagues. Kepa’s the youngest in that group, playing in a new league, at a new team, in a new country.
Although Chelsea finished the season in third position, a whopping 25 points behind second place Liverpool, there is optimism that the Europa League win will serve as a launchpad to much better performances and hopefully more silverware next season.
“It has definitely been long year. We played a lot of matches – the Europa League final is Game 54 for me at Chelsea, which is a lot for only one season – but the most important thing was to come away with something to show for it, so we are very happy to have been able to cap it off with a major trophy.
“It’s true that we finished further than we would have liked behind the top two, but despite the ups and downs, I think it has been a good season for us and we are already looking forward to the next one.”
- Kepa Arrizabalaga; source: Chelsea FC
With Hazard certain to leave, Sarri uncertain to stay, and a transfer ban looming, we could all do with a bit of Kepa’s optimism! Onwards and upwards!