The Premier League has been dubbed as the most competitive division in world football and seldom is it easy for a player to acclimatise to the league’s physicality and frenzied tempo. This is especially true of a player that has only played in one country throughout the entirety of his senior career. Furthermore, it’s always difficult to adapt when joining a team that are themselves experiencing a transition. Additionally, it’s even more applicable for a 24-year-old that shoulders the status of being the most expensive goalkeeper in the history of football.
With that in mind, Kepa Arrizzabalga deserves tremendous praise for his start to life as a Chelsea player. In 13 league games for the Blues, the Spaniard has conceded 11 goals and has amassed a commendable tally of six clean sheets. He has been equally commanding in the Europa League. For a signing, and a price tag, that evoked scepticism from some quarters of the British press, he has made a swift and rather unassuming start to life in the Premier League.
Unlike his predecessor, who tended to air his contentious views vocally, Kepa has assumed his role in the Chelsea team gracefully and rather modestly. Despite the Blues’ collective defensive woes against their rivals, Chelsea have conceded eight goals against Arsenal, Liverpool, Manchester United and Tottenham combined, the Spaniard has made a series of tremendous saves, and has been a vital cog in the west London outfit’s transitional machine.
Despite appearing deceptively short on the eye, Kepa is 6’2 and flaunts excellent reflexes and even when the team are their worst, such as the Blues’ recent 3-1 defeat against Tottenham, the 24-year-old – at times – was solely responsible for keeping his team in the game.
One of the most treasured attributes that the former Athletic Bilbao keeper possesses, one of the primary factors that contributed to his purchase, is his tremendous distribution. It’s well publicised that Sarri’s system requires players to be technically adept, and that is also applicable to the goalkeeper, who’s often responsible for instigating moves. During his brief spell at Chelsea, Kepa has demonstrated the impressive extent of his passing range, while also proving to be exceedingly comfortable in possession.
Without question, Kepa is a quintessential example of the modern-day goalkeeper, he’s a tremendous shot-stopper, but he’s also athletic, and he flaunts tremendous technical qualities. He has steadily grown in stature and confidence since joining the FA Cup holders and has registered several saves of note such as those in the victories against Vidi and Southampton, and even in last weekend’s defeat to Tottenham.
As is the case with Sarri’s system, where the team defends as a collective through pressing opponents, we can’t look at Kepa’s achievements in isolation. The entire team warrant credit for their work, especially in the games that Chelsea have won convincingly, this term. Nonetheless, as was best demonstrated against Spurs, despite being partly culpable for the first goal, the stopper registered several vital saves to keep his team in the game.
In a few months at the club, such is his importance Kepa already appears to be an established member of the squad, and with Courtois’ middling form at Real Madrid, it seems that Chelsea were justified in opting to make a sizeable investment to sign him.
At the age of 24 there is significant scope for Arrizabalaga to further his progression, and under the guidance of a manager that is widely regarded for his ability to improve players, he could develop into one of the most decorated goalkeepers in world football. Naturally, there are areas of his game that require refinement, such as his ability to defend crosses – a continuous source of goals for Chelsea’s opponents this season. That said, he deserves great praise for the manner in which he has started his career in the Premier League, and as far as the Blues faithful are concerned, long may that start continue.
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