Kepa Arrizabalaga is not without his (more than) fair share of critics, but the man who was tabbed as Chelsea’s heir apparent at goalkeeper — not to mention the club’s record signing and the world’s most expensive player at that position — has now put a solid 18 months in Stamford Bridge, has won a trophy, came within a few fingertips of a second, and has, by and large, been solid, often good, and at times even great between the sticks.
Given how goalkeepers coming in from other leagues often struggle with the adjustment to the Premier League, and considering Kepa’s relatively small size to boot, his acclimatization has surely gone about as well as we had ever dared to hope.
“It’s a little bit different to playing in La Liga. The players, and the goalkeeper also, are less protected by the referee. You need to be stronger in some balls, because the referee doesn’t say it’s a foul. You need to learn a little bit these situations.
“You also need to understand English football is very quick, can have less control or less touches, but more opportunities. The ball can be far away, but in two touches it’s in the box, so I need to be ready for 90 minutes. The games are very good to watch, with a lot of goals, speed. You need some time, but then it’s fun to play.
“I like so much the English football, the spirit of the stadium, the supporters. As players you like to play in this atmosphere. I am happy and with good feeling here.”
Goalkeeping excellence has been synonymous with Chelsea for the past couple decades. The likes of Ed de Goey, Carlo Cudicini, Petr Čech, and Thibaut Courtoisssss were some of the world’s best of their respective eras, and Kepa’s well on his way to writing a similar legacy. His skills may differ from those who had come before him in a Chelsea shirt — certainly to Čech and his replacement — but they also reflect a wider trend in the changing demands of the position. And that’s where Kepa’s perhaps greatest strengths lie: his unflappable cool and his ball-playing skills.
Of course, as with any skill, the work to improve never stops.
“I feel confident and I feel good playing with my feet. [...] I think I always have had good play with my feet, but obviously every year you are improving. Of course you work on it with your team-mates and the goalkeeper coach, but also you keep your time after training: to try some passes, try some situations that can happen in the game. The final target is to improve and be better.”
-Kepa Arrizabalaga; source: Chelsea FC
Extra work after training? Lampard’s gonna love to hear that!