Football Features

Why Chelsea’s biggest defensive problem so far this season might actually be Kepa Arrizabalaga

By Harry Edwards

Published: 17:25, 15 September 2019

Chelsea returned to winning ways with a 5-2 victory over Wolverhampton Wanderers on Saturday.

Tammy Abraham scored a hat-trick for the Blues, with fellow academy graduates Fikayo Tomori and Mason Mount also finding the net at  Molineux.

But it was not all positive for Frank Lampard, with Chelsea conceding twice when 4-0 up to add unnecessary pressure to the closing stages of the game.

The Blues have the second-worst defence in the Premier League this season, conceding 11 goals in five games with only Norwich City conceding more (12).

Defenders Cesar Azpilicueta and Kurt Zouma have faced most of the criticism for Chelsea’s leaky defence, with both yet to really get going for the Blues this season.

The former is finally showing signs of slowing down after being a consistent performer for seven years, while Zouma has struggled upon his return from a loan spell at Everton.

But Kepa Arrizabalaga should shoulder some of the blame too, with the Spaniard not currently performing to the expectations of a £75m-rated goalkeeper.

A competent debut campaign

Having arrived from Athletic Bilbao last season to replace Thibaut Courtois for a world-record fee for a goalkeeper, Arrizabalaga had a decent first campaign in England.

In the Premier League he conceded 39 goals and kept 14 clean sheets, helping Chelsea to finish the campaign with the third-best defence in the division. Only top two Manchester City and Liverpool conceded fewer goals than the Blues last season, while only Alisson and Ederson kept more clean sheets.

For Arrizabalaga himself, the Spaniard made 82 saves from the 331 shots he faced in the Premier League, 121 of which were on target, with a save percentage of 67.77%. Although this is not a spectacular return – with 13 goalkeepers to have made at least 10 saves managing a better rate – it certainly isn’t bad.

The Spaniard also proved himself to be a capable goalkeeper in penalty situations, saving four across three shootouts including two en route to winning the Europa League, as well as one of the two he faced in the Premier League.

But, after stating his claim to become a genuine contender to replace David de Gea as Spain’s number one goalkeeper, Arrizabalaga has had a season to forget under Lampard so far.

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Arrizabalaga’s downturn in form

As previously mentioned, Chelsea boast the second-worst defence in the Premier League this season and that was only thanks to Rodri’s late consolation goal for Manchester City in their 3-2 defeat to Norwich City, otherwise Lampard’s men would have been bottom of the pile.

While Azpilicueta and Zouma are the main targets for the criticism, Arrizabalaga must hold his hands up for failing to be the last line of defence.

The Spaniard is one of just five goalkeepers yet to officially register a clean sheet this season, joining Norwich City’s Tim Krul, Bournemouth’s Aaron Ramsdale, Watford’s Ben Foster and Alisson of Liverpool – though the latter only makes the list for failing to reach the required threshold before going off injured in the Premier League opener.

Facing 50 shots in total, 21 of which have arrived on target so far this season, Arrizabalaga has made just 11 saves, with a percentage of 47.62%. Across the Premier League, only Rui Patricio (47.37%) has a worse save percentage, having saved nine of the 19 shots on target he has faced.

And it hasn’t been a case of Arrizabalaga being beaten by 11 wonder strikes, the Spaniard could have done better on various occasions.

In the season opener against Manchester United, Arrizabalaga was severely let down by his defence in conceding a penalty – from which he was well-beaten by Marcus Rashford’s shot.

But the Spaniard could have done better when attempting to prevent Chelsea from going further behind just after half-time, as Anthony Martial’s shot went through his legs. Manchester United had five shots on target at Old Trafford that day, with Arrizabalaga only making one save.

The following game, Arrizabalaga was left flat-footed for Wilfred Ndidi’s strike to equalise for Leicester, but the goalkeeper did have his best game of the season so far against the Foxes.

Facing three shots on target, Arrizabalaga made two saves against Brendan Rodgers’ side, recording a save percentage of 66.67%. It is also the only game in which the Spaniard has conceded fewer than two goals this season.

Another statistically decent performance followed away to Norwich City, with Arrizabalaga saving three of the five shots on target he faced, but once against fingers were pointed at the Spaniard as he allowed Teemu Pukki’s shot from a wide angle go under his arm and into the bottom right corner.

A low point for Arrizabalaga came in the 2-2 draw with Sheffield United as he was left flat-footed for both of the Blades’ goals as they came from behind to earn a draw, managing just one save from three shots on target.

Then, against Wolves, Arrizabalaga did manage to increase his saves with a 60% success rate of the five shots on target he faced, but two of his saves did still lead to goals.

The first saw him weakly palm the ball onto Abraham’s arm for the Englishman’s own goal, before failing to deal with Matt Doherty’s powerful cross, pushing it into the path of Patrick Cutrone for Wolves’ second.

Fortunately for the Spaniard, and Chelsea, they were not costly thanks to the lead the Blues had built, but if Lampard’s side are to keep their place in the top six, Arrizabalaga needs to sort out his slump – especially with Liverpool up next in the Premier League.

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