As another gameweek comes and goes in the 2019/20 season, Kepa Arrizabalaga remains one of the biggest talking points in the Premier League. Being the most expensive goalkeeper ever naturally puts you under the spotlight, but Kepa has desperately struggled to live up to his price tag during his first two seasons at Chelsea.
His reputation among fans has actually reached the point where he is criticised and held responsible for most of the goals Chelsea concede, sometimes even unfairly. Take the first goal they conceded at Crystal Palace as an example, the long range strike by Wilfred Zaha. It was questionable goalkeeping but the social media reaction went a bit far.
It was the same story we’ve seen repeatedly this campaign. Fans claiming they could have saved the goals Kepa is conceding, claiming any professional keeper should be able to keep the shot out and in reality the situations are rarely that bad. Perhaps it’s just frustrations letting things get out of hand, but that is by no means a defence of the Chelsea keeper.
Truthfully, it isn’t necessarily that Kepa makes many blatant, egregious errors, the problem lies more in the frequency of his small mistakes. The number of goals Chelsea concede where you think “a better goalkeeper probably stops that” is frightening. Questionable positioning, being weak on aerial balls and poor timing on decisions to leave his line are just a few of the struggles he’s been having.
To be clear, not all of Chelsea’s defensive problems can be put on the goalkeeper. Through 34 gameweeks they have conceded 46 goals, no team in the top half has conceded more. Issues at left back, and even more so at centre back, also need looked at. Lampard has tried a variety of different pairs at centre back throughout the season but the sloppy mistakes persist no matter who he selects.
While I definitely wouldn’t excuse any of their errors because of Kepa, it doesn’t help to have a goalkeeper playing at the level Kepa is behind them. Their flaws are exacerbated by Arrizabalaga, his lack of confidence and the lack of confidence that then instils in his back line.
That brings us to the question of what Chelsea do going forwards. We can see from the spending they have already done ahead of the 2020/21 season that they mean business. Bringing in Timo Werner and Hakim Ziyech, in addition to the potential signing of Kai Havertz, signals their intention to challenge again for the top trophies.
Moreover, we have also seen Chelsea linked to a number of left backs, Ben Chilwell being the one mentioned most frequently, which would address another weakness. Based on what I mentioned previously you wouldn’t be surprised if they also opted to work on upgrading their centre back group as well. However, to win trophies you tend to need a reliable goalkeeper, something Kepa is not.
There are a few options available to the club on how to proceed. The first is simply to persist with Kepa between the sticks. Obviously to many Chelsea supporters this seems unthinkable after watching the 2019/20 season but it is a possibility that cannot be ruled out. With such huge amounts of money already being invested into other areas of their squad this summer, we could see them wait until next year to fix the goalkeeper position.
I think it is fair to say now that there is very little chance Kepa survives long term as Chelsea’s number 1. Even looking back onto his 2018/19 campaign, his first at the club, it was very up and down. At the time it was easy to put a positive spin on it as it was his first year in a new country, plus he was a relatively inexperienced keeper. It could have been a strong enough foundation to build on going forward.
After seeing the decline he’s suffered in 2019/20, the issues becomes clearer. He didn’t have the capabilities, or at the very least wasn’t ready, to be a starter at a top club. To make it in the best teams a goalkeeper must be able to maintain concentration and stay at their best through long periods of games where he is rarely tested. For Kepa those circumstances only appear to expose his flaws.
That brings us on to another route Chelsea can go down, and that is to loan out Kepa Arrizabalaga in the hope of reviving his market value. Spending a year or two out at a club where the goalkeeper is likely to face more shots on target than Chelsea’s does is probably what’s best for Kepa in this situation.
A reasonably successful loan move could help Chelsea mitigate some of their loss, although there’s no chance they get close to the £72 million they paid for him. Not just because of his performances this season but also because they overpaid for him in the first place, something you usually have to accept though when you’re shopping at Athletic Club.
Any solution that involves Kepa leaving naturally requires Chelsea to bring in a quality replacement. You would hope they have learnt their lesson from last time and won’t rush in to make any panicked purchases. That is why I wouldn’t be shocked, despite everything I’ve written, to see Chelsea go with the first option and give him one more season.
Should they secure a new number 1 however, there is one more path they could take and that would be to cut their losses and try their best to ship Kepa out this summer. With that being said, unless there is a club out there desperately looking to overpay for a goalkeeper coming off an awful season then I find this to be an unlikely outcome.
What does the market for Kepa really look like this summer? Is there any club out there willing to pay half, or even close to it, of what Chelsea did two years ago? I really doubt it.
In the end, regardless of the way they choose to deal with it, goalkeeper has again become a position Chelsea need to address, and it is hard to see them competing with Liverpool and Man City until they do so.
Originally published at http://jackmccutcheon.com on July 11, 2020.