Kepa Arrizabalaga has always been good at saving penalties, even before drawing that into sharp focus in the UEFA Super Cup at the start of this season, when we subbed him on just for the shootout, Tim Krul-style.
We might remember his heroics in our 2018-19 Europa League campaign, for example, or his infamous unwillingness to miss out on the shootout against Manchester City in the League Cup final that same season. And of course this season, he seems almost unbeatable at the moment, though even before he came to Chelsea, he had a good record for Athletic Bilbao.
“He is so good at penalties, he makes people miss them. He is frightening. He loves it, even in training. I’ve never seen anything like it. It’s scary. He has full belief he is going to save every penalty.” Kepa’s ability at spot kicks isn’t luck: #CFC https://t.co/GED1ZdQcI1— Simon Johnson (@SJohnsonSport) February 5, 2022
While statistics for this sort of thing are hard to find, Transfermarkt has him on 7 saved penalties from 24 (not counting shootouts), so about once every three, which sounds about right. For comparison, Petr Čech for his career had a rate of saving one of every five (17/81) or one every four before going to Arsenal (16/67). That’s a much bigger sample and it’s again not counting shootouts. Few will top Čech’s heroics in 2012 Champions League final in that regard.
Kepa has made more penalty shoot-out saves than any other goalkeeper in Chelsea’s history (7) and has now saved 3/8 during games.— Squawka Football (@Squawka) February 5, 2022
But the point here isn’t to compare glove sizes. Kepa might not be the biggest goalkeeper we’ve ever had, but he seems to grow in stature whenever someone tries to beat him from that little white dot 11 meters from goal.
So how does he do it? Incidentally, he was just on the official Chelsea Mic’d Up podcast talking about his very thing!
“Since I was a kid, I’ve liked penalties. I feel very good in those situations. [But] I have not just one secret [for saving them].
“It’s like a mix of confidence, of studying the shooters, and mental strength. I don’t know which is the secret, but it’s about all of this. When penalties are coming, I feel myself confident. It’s my moment: to help the team, to try to win it. And I’ve felt that for a long time.”
-Kepa Arrizabalaga; source: Chelsea Mic’d Up
Thanks to the brilliant @kepa_46 for joining us on Chelsea Mic’d Up this week. Marvel at his brilliant penalty technique and flawless English here #kepa #cfc #podcast https://t.co/1jW5peXmSo pic.twitter.com/IgKWpTxcMA— Lee Parker (@Leeparker_tv) February 3, 2022
Petr Čech famously studied all of Bayern’s players ahead of the aforementioned 2012 final, but when it comes down to the deed itself, it’s as much of a mental battle of wills as a physical or technical one.
And Kepa’s a bit of an expert at this point, to say the least.
Not shown: Kepa psyching out the taker by checking the pressure of the ball, talking to the ref and taking an age to get back on his line. Half the battle of penalties is in the mind #cfc https://t.co/GOoWXhpnGt— Ollie Glanvill (@OllieGlanvill) February 5, 2022
Perhaps the most impressive part is that Kepa has done all this as the backup, having had to deal with the burden of his (still world record) transfer fee, his subsequent high-profile benching(s), and of course all the well-worn discourse about his weaknesses.
But there’s immense strength there as well, mental above all, and we’re reaping the rewards.
“Kepa is brilliant. He is a great example to everybody. He has gone through a lot of difficulties at this club, but he has always had a positive attitude.
“He looks at himself, improves for the team, even if it’s not easy to be number two. He always supports Edou. We have a fantastic group of goalkeepers, Edou, Kepa, Marcus, with Hilário the goalkeeping coach. Whoever plays is ready and we saw that again.”
-César Azpilicueta; source: Chelsea FC
Édouard Mendy’s set to return to the team after Sunday’s Africa Cup of Nations final, and resume his duties as first-choice goalkeeper. But something tells me Kepa still has a massive role to play this season in our quest for all the cup trophies.