After lifting the first senior trophy of his career in Baku, Europa League winner Kepa Arrizabalaga celebrated the ideal end to his debut season with the Blues.
The talented young goalkeeper from the Basque Country came to Chelsea to win titles and 10 months later he achieved that and earned recognition on the European stage.
As debut seasons go, Kepa’s has been busy. He has already played 54 times for Chelsea, plus the first half of last month’s charity match in the USA. In his 4,906 minutes between the Blues posts – a few hours longer than it would take to finish the entirety of Game of Thrones – our summer signing has kept 23 clean sheets, seven of those in Europe.
Taking us first from Stamford Bridge to Thessaloniki, and then all the way to Baku via Borisov, Budapest, Malmo, Kiev, Prague and Frankfurt, with some memorable nights at home in between, the Europa League has been a big part of our campaign. Speaking after the final in Azerbaijan, Kepa was sure it was all worthwhile.
‘We are absolutely thrilled to have won this trophy, one that we have been training hard for since the very start of the season,’ Kepa said. ‘We went into the competition hoping to win it, and our objective became clearer and clearer with every round. We always saw this as a fantastic opportunity for us – a European title is a European title – and I think it has been the perfect conclusion to a season that we had already finished strongly.’
Having recovered in the Premier League to leapfrog our London rivals and trail only the domestic treble-winners and champions of Europe, Kepa is convinced this season should go down as a success.
‘At the end of the day, we reached two cup finals and came third in the league. All we can do each year is fight to perform as well as we can in all the competitions we're in, and we have shown our ability to do that.
‘It’s true that we finished further than we would have liked behind the top two, but despite the ups and downs, I think it has been a good season for us and we are already looking forward to the next one.’
Only Manchester City and Liverpool let in fewer goals than Chelsea in the Premier League this campaign (in which our No.1 played 36 out of 38 matches), a statistic Kepa believes is key to our qualification for the next Champions League, and the 24-year-old regards the Europa League title as a reward for our efforts across the board.
‘It has definitely been long year,’ Kepa admitted. ‘We played a lot of matches – the Europa League final is Game 54 for me at Chelsea, which is a lot for only one season – but the most important thing was to come away with something to show for it, so we are very happy to have been able to cap it off with a major trophy.’
Ahead of Spain’s Euro 2020 qualifiers against the Faroe Islands and Sweden, the season is not quite over for Kepa, who like many of his club-mates has linked up with his national team this week. Soon, though, it will be time for a well-earned break, and a chance for the youngster to start thinking ahead to making further progress next year.