Chelsea goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga has improved a lot

LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 19: Kepa Arrizabalaga of Chelsea during the Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on September 19, 2021 in London, England. (Photo by Visionhaus/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 19: Kepa Arrizabalaga of Chelsea during the Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on September 19, 2021 in London, England. (Photo by Visionhaus/Getty Images) /

Rollercoaster ride. If there is one term that describes Kepa Arrizabalaga’s tenure at Chelsea, it’s that one. The Spanish shot-stopper has experienced the thrills of leading his team to European glory in the Europa League and Super Cup. He’s also undergone the trials of being harassed by fans and dubbed the Premier League’s worst goalkeeper. The veteran keeper has truly been through the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. Arrizabalaga has been to hell and back—he’s not shied away from making that claim either.

Blues supporters seem noticeably more nervous when he’s between the sticks. While it’s normal for fans to trust their No. 1 goalie more than the back-up, Arrizabalaga is no ordinary No. 2. The 26-year-old has an abundance of experience being the guy in goal, more so than many of his peers. Arrizabalaga is also in the prime years of his career and he’s still improving. It may not seem as if this is the case, but Arrizabalaga has been significantly better ever since Thomas Tuchel took charge of Chelsea in January 2021.

Chelsea goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga has improved drastically since his forgettable 2019/20 season

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Many will point to the defense in front of him and claim that’s why he’s improved over the last eight months. Truth be told, that is part of the reason. The Blues’ back line has transformed into one of Europe’s best since the German gaffer was appointed following Frank Lampard’s sacking. To ignore that point would show ignorance, but it isn’t as simple as the men in front of him simply succeeding. Good goalkeeping and defending have a chicken and egg relationship. Instead of pitting them against one another, it’s better to look at it as mutual success. A solid defense is bound to fail without a good goalkeeper and vice versa.

Arrizabalaga still has a lot of room to improve, there is no doubt about that. However, it’s been obvious that he’s taken massive strides to get to where he is today. The Spaniard looks like a more confident player between the sticks than he did when Edouard Mendy first joined the Blues. It’d be easy for him to put his tail between his legs and scurry off to a club in his home country. He hasn’t done that though. The reason for that could be commitment to Chelsea or purely financial—we’ll never know—but his effort is commendable regardless.

The Tottenham game worked wonders in putting Blues fans at ease. A lot of the talk throughout the offseason surrounded Mendy’s eventual departure midseason when he heads to the Africa Cup of Nations. Tuchel will have no choice to name Arrizabalaga his temporary starter, the first time the Blues have had someone other than the Senegalese keeper start since his arrival from Rennes last year. The prospect of this worried Chelsea supporters as the winter period is usually when the side hits a few bumps in the road anyway. Those feelings are quickly subsiding now after Arrizabalaga kept a clean sheet at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in Mendy’s absence.

Arrizabalaga did not have a perfect match against Spurs. There was a nervy moment or two when he failed to control a cross or a shot, which is not uncommon at the position. He made a handful of saves throughout the contest, even managing to cut out a shot by Son Heung-min on a mistake by the defense. Arrizabalaga only faced two shots on target, but it was his confidence when cutting out crosses or making stops that managed to convince viewers. He kept a clean sheet in the end, which will go a long way in boosting his morale.

None of this is to say Arrizabalaga should be promoted within the squad—don’t take these praises out of context. Mendy has established himself as one of the world’s strongest keepers, so it’d be absurd to suggest replacing him. It’s simply to highlight the progression of the Spaniard following an unimaginably tough time in his young career. The Blues will miss Mendy when he leaves for AFCON in a few months’ time, they’ll be in safe hands with Arrizabalaga though.

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