Ahead of facing Premier League leaders Manchester City today, Kepa Arrizabalaga has insisted with a focused performance we can match any team.
In what could be a crucial month for our season, we head into today’s match in second place in the standings, but trailing our next opponents by 10 points in the table, meaning there is plenty at stake in the title race on our trip to Manchester.
With Edouard Mendy away competing with Senegal at the Africa Cup of Nations, Kepa has stepped in as our goalkeeper in January after having to remain patient for his chances, but is excited about the opportunity it provides him in a series of big matches, following his back-to-back clean sheets over the two legs of our Carabao Cup semi-final win over Tottenham Hotspur.
‘We have a few of games while Edou is playing in Africa,’ said Kepa. ‘I wish him all the best and maybe I have an opportunity to play more games in a row, and very big games, important games, against Manchester City, Brighton and Tottenham again.’
Of course, it is the first of those matches against City today which is very much on his mind. While he believes there is still enough time left in the season for us to haul in the leaders, he knows how crucial it could be if we start to close the gap by three points today.
‘It's a very important game for us, it’s a very important game for them. It’s a big distance of course, 10 points is 10 points, but I think we still have an opportunity,’ continued the goalkeeper.
‘There are still a lot of games to play but first of all we have to step up in our confidence, in our performance and look at ourselves, don’t look too much at the opponent because if we work at our highest level we have the opportunity to beat any team.
‘I think we have to get back in winning ways in the Premier League, because we’ve had a couple of draws in the recent games. We have to get back because we want to be closer to Manchester City in the table. Right now we are 10 points behind, so we have to step up and we have to push ourselves to be more consistent in the Premier League.’
Kepa also discussed the time he has spent having to be patient waiting for opportunities like this for an extended run in the team, revealing it has made him hungrier than ever to take his chances when they arrive.
‘Of course every player wants to play as much as he can, but what I learned in the last few months is to be focused on my job, work to be at peace in my mind, and that helps me a lot. Just give all that I can do and take the opportunity when I have an opportunity. I am in this mood and I think now I am doing well, I am helping the team and I am so happy about that.
‘I was waiting for that moment to play for a long time, so I think I am ready to take the opportunity. I’ve been ready, that is the important thing. When you are out of the starting XI for a time, you are on the bench and ready to go, you feel the atmosphere and you want to be there on the pitch, so I was ready to go.’
According to the Spaniard, a big part of that peace of mind which has allowed him to stay focused and ready for his opportunity comes from the open and honest relationship he has with our head coach Thomas Tuchel.
‘I always said, when Thomas came here everything changed for me. He gave me the confidence step by step. I was not in the best situation in that moment, so I think I’ve grown a lot under him.
‘I am back in confidence, I feel well. I have a very good relationship with Thomas, he has trust in me and I have trust in him, so I think it’s a good partnership.’