Kepa reveals the secret to penalty success

Having played a starring role in another penalty shoot-out victory, this time against Southampton, Kepa Arrizabalaga has explained what gives him an edge when facing spot kicks.

Following last night’s Carabao Cup tie with Southampton, when Kepa denied Theo Walcott in the shoot-out, the goalkeeper has been between the posts for all three of our penalty wins so far this season, making four saves, having knocked out Aston Villa in the previous round of the same competition, as well as beating Villarreal in Belfast to lift the UEFA Super Cup.

While he admits there are several factors that come into play when a game goes to penalties, the Spaniard believes feeling confident and comfortable under pressure is key for a goalkeeper in those situations, even if he would obviously prefer us not to need penalties to secure the win.

‘I've always said I try to help the team in the best way, but I do feel really good at penalties. I feel confident,’ he said. ‘It's a bit of luck, a bit of work, a bit of everything but I feel really good.

‘I think right now in professional football everybody has the information about the other team’s penalty takers so, like I said before, it's a bit of everything. A bit of confidence, a bit of work, a bit of luck.

‘But I feel really good on penalties and last night even more so, because it was in front of our fans. Stamford Bridge was full, they were pushing us, so it was a good cup game.

‘I'm really happy to help the team, to be in the next round and win on penalties for the third time this season. Hopefully we can win the next game in 90 minutes, but if we go to penalties I'm ready to go again.’

However, keeping confidence high can be difficult for a goalkeeper when playing time is scarce and Kepa has needed to be patient as Edouard Mendy’s fine performances since joining Chelsea have made him Thomas Tuchel’s first choice, but the Spaniard credits the trust he feels from our head coach for ensuring he is ready to step up when called upon.

‘Of course I want to play more regularly. My last game was also a cup game, more or less a month ago, so it's not easy to sometimes step in and feel the same as you would if you play every week, but I try to be ready, train hard, be involved in the team.

‘Also, I feel the confidence of the manager. This is really important. I've felt his support from the beginning and I think when I step in I'm ready to help the team. I'm happy to do that.’

Kepa also understands the importance of making the most of his opportunities when they arrive and, with two of his three starts this season coming in the Carabao Cup, admits he had added motivation to ensure we progressed in the competition.

‘It's really important to take these chances. First of all, I want to keep playing and if we lose in the cup and we're out, I have one game less, no? So I start with this mindset.

‘But I really want to enjoy being on the pitch with that pressure. I want to enjoy it because when you're on the bench it's not the same, of course. So I try to enjoy it with the team and finish the game with good feelings like yesterday.’

Our victory over Southampton means we will be back in action in the Carabao Cup shortly before Christmas, when the quarter-finals get under way.

Shortly after that match, Kepa may have his best opportunity yet to impress Tuchel, as Mendy has helped Senegal qualify for the Africa Cup of Nations, which will be played in Cameroon between 9 January and 6 February.

With Mendy potentially absent for a month, that could see Kepa handed an extended run in the starting line-up, but the 27-year-old says it is too early to think about that possibility yet.

‘It's two months away,’ he explained. ‘Of course we know it can happen and I will be ready, but we have a lot of games until we start thinking about that. Let's go step by step and we'll see what happens.

‘If he goes to the Africa Cup of Nations, all the best and I'll be ready, but it's still a long way to arrive at that point.’

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