Following his penalty heroics this season, Kepa Arrizabalaga is the latest player to sit down to answer our 10 questions on a range of subjects…
The Spaniard has shown his prowess in penalty shoot-outs again in 2021/22, playing a big part in our victory over Villarreal in the UEFA Super Cup at the start of the current campaign, as well as back-to-back Carabao Cup wins against Aston Villa and Southampton.
Kepa made four saves across those three shoot-outs, taking his total to eight since joining Chelsea in 2018 and surpassing Petr Cech’s previous club record of six. It also broke two more records, as the Blues won three consecutive shoot-outs, and three in the same season, for the first time in our history.
The goalkeeper discusses those records and his penalty prowess, as well as how he keeps himself ready to step in for Edouard Mendy to help the team at any moment and the importance of the whole squad working together as he answers our 10 questions…
Firstly, congratulations for the records you’ve set this season. Your eight penalty shoot-out saves are a Chelsea record and we’ve now won three shoot-outs in a row for the first time ever, all with you in goal…
I didn’t know before I achieved this record of eight saves and I hadn’t heard about the record about the three penalty shoot-outs in a row, but I’m very happy and proud to be the record holder. So I’m very happy, but the most important thing was that the first one was for a trophy and the other two were to go to the next round.
In the end it is about helping the team, because I am so happy to help the team when I have the opportunity and the record comes after that. The most important thing for me is going into the next round and winning it.
The first of those records was previously held by Petr Cech. He is always keen to keep track of his statistics and records, have you spoken to him about taking this one away from him?
We speak every day, as he’s around here at Cobham. We speak about everything, he’s always close to the goalkeepers. We haven’t spoken about these two records, but I don’t think he has any problems about losing them. I’m sure that I will talk with him in a good way about the record because it’s a record of Chelsea and we both want the best for the club.
I don’t spend much time looking at statistics like that. I track more opposition players, statistics about players that I can face, but maybe not too much about records. Maybe when I’m retired, like he is now, I will start looking more at numbers about what I did in the past, but now I am more focused on the statistics of other players and using them to see how to stop them.
You seem to have a real talent for penalties. What do you think gives you an edge?
I don’t know. I’ve liked penalties all my life, all my career I’ve saved penalties. I don’t want to say I have a secret, because maybe I don’t, but I feel well in that area. It is like some players feel comfortable in free-kicks or penalty shooting, like Jorginho. It’s one quality that I have, so I try to put my quality in this area at the disposal of the team.
I think success in penalties for a goalkeeper is down to a bit of everything. It’s a bit of preparation, it’s a bit of luck, it’s a bit of mental strength, it’s a bit of your quality – it’s a mix.
Right now every team, every player, has information about the other players, so it is about how you manage that information. This is not mathematics, it’s not just two plus two equals four, so the instinct and how you approach the penalties is also important.
What I always say is I like the penalty shoot-outs, but most importantly I like to help the team and if I can help in this way I am so happy.
What are you thinking and doing as a goalkeeper during the final minutes of a match as penalties approach and those nervous few moments before a shoot-out begins? Given your confidence are you eager for them to start?
No, I don’t think about the chance of penalties during a game, it’s only later, because you saw in our last game like that against Southampton we were a little bit in trouble in the last two set-pieces. So you have no time to think if penalties is what you want.
You just have to be focused on the game, be focused in the 90th minute in case you need to make some saves in the last minute. When the game is finished then it is time to think ‘okay, now we have the penalties’, but in the game you are focused on what you are doing because you cannot go away, you have to be focused.
Before the penalties start you are talking about it with the goalkeeper coach, with the other goalkeepers, more or less knowing who is playing in the other team, because after 90 minutes or 120 minutes, normally the other team make subs.
So you are making your idea of who could shoot, who cannot and just being ready to go to the goal. But there is not too much time to think about it, you know already how to approach it, how to stay in the goal, so it’s just about being relaxed but being ready.
Which shoot-out has been your favourite with Chelsea so far?
I’m not sure. Maybe I will say the one against Villarreal because that gave us a trophy. When you win a trophy it’s like, well, you win a trophy!
Right now at this time in football it is not easy to win any trophy, so when you have the opportunity to save one penalty and that means you win a trophy, it’s a good feeling. When you go to the next round it is also a big adrenalin rush and you are very happy, but when you get a trophy it is the best thing in football.
You haven’t been playing as often as earlier in your Chelsea career since Edouard Mendy’s arrival. How do you stay ready when you are out of the side, so you can step in and help the team at any moment?
It’s very important, you have to be ready. You have to be ready for yourself, you have to be ready for the team, also because it’s your job to be ready always, no?
It’s not easy when you’re not playing, everybody wants to play, but the best way I’m trying to do it is push every day hard. Just push yourself every day in the training and be positive. I know sometimes it is not easy, but you have to be very strong mentally.
When I have the opportunity, like in the cups, or like I did in the league against Tottenham, when I come in I do my best to take the opportunity and give everything to make the manager have a hard decision.
Thomas Tuchel has said honesty is crucial with players in your situation and that people have to understand a strong squad with lots of competition is just the reality of life at a big club at Chelsea. Do you agree?
I think we have high quality here in all the positions. We have a very good squad. Every game, on the bench, there are big players, lots of internationals, but it’s what we need.
I think we will have a lot of games, hopefully, during the season. We will have to be ready, everybody, because everybody will have their moment and we need that. We need everybody being pushed hard in training, pushing each other, and I think we are doing that.
We have a good atmosphere in the team. Obviously everybody wants to play and everybody wants to play every Saturday, but it’s also important to accept the manager’s decisions, to keep pushing and to be ready to take the opportunity when you have it.
We have seen outfield players coming in and making a big impact after a spell outside the team under Tuchel, in the current campaign and last season. It must be good to see there are no favourites with him and the door is never closed if you take your opportunities…
I know we have fantastic players in every position. What happens with me right now happens in different positions every Saturday so, as I said, it’s about being ready. We have good quality in every position so we have to push and take the opportunity when you have it.
We know that happened last season with different players. Then it happened during the season because we had injuries, problems with form, and it’s normal I think. It’s a long season, 11 months really, and every player will have ups and downs, so it’s just about being ready.
We have a lot of players, a lot of games, so we need every player to arrive in the final months in the best position possible to win trophies.
Every time you have played this season your performances have received a lot of praise from the manager and your team-mates. It must be nice to know how much you are appreciated by them…
It’s good, I feel like this. To feel that support and that love from your team-mates and your manager is good. That makes you keep pushing, keep doing the same, keep supporting the team also when you are not playing, being bold, being positive.
I think that is very important when you are not playing as much as you want, to help the team in the role that you have in the moment. This is what I try to do and is what I want in my team-mates when they are not playing too, because I think it is the best way for the team to go as far as we can.
You’ve also been getting praise from outside the club. Former England goalkeeper David James recently said you were the most agile keeper in the Premier League, is that a compliment you’ve heard before?
I knew he spoke about me, but I didn’t know he said that. I agree a little bit with him, I think it’s one of my characteristics. I am flexible, I am quick on the goal line, I am agile. Maybe that helps me play well and with what I do in the goal, because it is one of my characteristics.
But I don’t know when you compare to other goalkeepers in the Premier League. I think there are different types of goalkeepers working in different clubs right now, so you can be like Petr Cech who is a two-metre goalkeeper and you can be like me, 1.88 metres or something like this. It’s a good size, but how you work in the goal is maybe different, because it’s not the same.
It’s the same with characteristics. Some goalkeepers are more agile, some play with their feet more, some are more aggressive. You have to take your qualities and adapt to the team to put your qualities at the disposal of the team. You have to try to show your qualities and use them to help the team.