One of the long-term decisions Frank Lampard has to make, if he stays on the job, is if Chelsea will afford to keep Kepa Arrizabalaga as their number 1.
Signed in September 2018 for £71 million, Kepa opens a Pandora’s box for Chelsea, whose key priority at present is signing a striker: Is it time to shop for a new first-choice goalkeeper?
Signed in the summer of 2018 for a world and club-record fee, Chelsea might have been convinced that they had made a good deal here and secured the goalkeeping department long term. 18 months on, and it looks like it was bad business.
On the weekend, Kepa was under fire for conceding a late winner against Newcastle, an Isaac Hayden header that critics suggest should have been saved. Such goals, including the one conceded against Arsenal on Tuesday night, have become commonplace at Chelsea’s goalmouth and have raised serious questions on Kepa’s techniques.
Asked afterward if he would consider switching Willy Caballero for Kepa, Chelsea boss Frank Lampard said, “If I felt there was a need to change I would,” Lampard said. “Obviously I haven’t done yet and Willy is fantastic in his role here. It’s a difficult job being a No 2 goalkeeper when it’s not so many games and a lot of training.
“He does that fantastically when he steps in and when he’s in the dressing room, he’s brilliant. So I haven’t seen it that way yet.”
Asked if he thought Kepa ranked among the elite, Lampard was cagey.
“[It’s a] Difficult question. I don’t want to get on that comparison. I agree that the fee is something that brings all the eyes on. I think that was the case last season and is the same.
“And without a doubt with Kepa, there is an improvement he’ll want to make. He should do it. I like his attitude in that he’s on himself and wants to be the best he can be. I’m happy with him but as I say, I always want better.”
Following another catastrophic 2-2 draw at home to Arsenal, Kepa, and by extension, Lampard’s grace period would finally wind down.
While it’s fair to say that Kepa has made some fine saves, he’s had his fair share of howlers and the statistics compound the goalkeeping crisis at The Bridge. Critics too would argue that any other Premier League keeper has a decent amount of good saves too.
In all the key goalkeeping pillars, Kepa has fallen short - penalty area command, distribution and saves.
Against Arsenal on Tuesday night, he was guilty of conceding a featherweight Hector Bellerin goal to deny his side maximum points. Although, his ever-changing his defense line shares the blame considerably.
To Kepa’s defense too, his goalkeeping howlers could be partly be attributed to an ever-changing backline as Frank Lampard looks to get his best 11 in place.
At 55.4%, Kepa has the worst save percentage of any keeper in the Premier League, and he ranks 127th in save percentage amongst Europe’s 132 keepers form the 7 top leagues.
Kepa’s numbers continue to be an eyesore. He ranks in the Premier League’s bottom 3 for the percentage of shots from outside and inside the box saved. Actually, no goalkeeper has conceded more goals from outside the box than Kepa. His pass accuracy has also decreased.
The Spaniard has so far leaked in 31 goals this season, which is close to 8 more goals than Chelsea’s expected goals against (xGA) tally of 23.21 goals.
These ugly statistics rank Kepa alongside some League’s worst - English duo of Angus Gunn (Southampton) & Nick Pope (Burnley).
He is nowhere near the world’s top keepers.
However, in an interview with Chelsea’s official website more than a week ago, Kepa spoke of how difficult it had been to adapt to life in the Premier League saying, “The players, and the goalkeeper also, are less protected by the referee. You need to be stronger in some balls because the referee doesn’t say it’s a foul. You need to learn a bit about these situations.
“English football is quick, can have less control or fewer touches, but more opportunities. The ball can be far away, but in two touches it’s in the box, so I need to be ready for 90 minutes. The games are very good to watch, with a lot of goals, speed. You need some time, but then it’s fun to play.”
Whether they can afford him and his manager ‘some’ (more) time is a big question.
Surely for £71m, Chelsea took a massive gamble, and that has not paid off. The possibilities of bringing in an elite shot-stopper to compete with Kepa are low. Chelsea fans, for now, can only hope that Spain’s No. 1 will come good and inspire some confidence in that backline as they battle for a top 4 finish.