Kepa Arrizabalaga is still best remembered for what happened in the 2019 Carabao Cup final.
That is why, more than two years on, the FA Cup will offer the chance for redemption in what will be Arrizabalaga’s first Wembley final since that nightmare.
Arrizabalaga infuriated Maurizio Sarri by refusing to be substituted during extra time when the former Chelsea boss wanted to bring on reserve keeper Willy Caballero because of his reputation of being a specialist when it came to saving penalties in shoot-outs.
It was an unforgettable meltdown which stole all of the headlines especially as Manchester City went on to win the trophy after a penalty shoot-out but it completely undermined Sarri’s authority and he was gone three months later.
Arrizabalaga wanted to be the hero but ended up as the villain although he partly redeemed himself that season by being the shoot-out hero in the Europa League when Chelsea saw off Eintracht Frankfurt on penalties on the way to winning the trophy.
But Arrizabalaga has struggled to live down that mad moment at Wembley – and that is why him starting him on Saturday is all the more intriguing.
Chelsea boss Thomas Tuchel has said publicly that Arrizabalaga will start against Leicester ahead of Edouard Mendy, he “deserves” his chance and said he started the 26-year-old Spaniard against Arsenal to get him ready.
The fact that Chelsea lost to Arsenal on Wednesday night after a terrible mix-up between Jorginho and Arrizabalaga – in fairness it was more down to the midfielder’s back pass after he did not look up to see where the keeper was – may not fill fans with confidence.
And it has also been a difficult time for Arrizabalaga who was signed by Chelsea in 2018 as the most expensive keeper in the world for a staggering £71.6million from Athletic Bilbao to replace Thibaut Courtois who joined Real Madrid.
Arrizabalaga signed a seven year contract, Chelsea saw him as their No1 keeper for the next decade and believed he had all the attributes to be the best in the world.
He is far from being the biggest – he is 6ft 1in tall and does not have the largest frame physically – but then nor did David de Gea and, while it took him time to settle, no-one can argue that at one point during his Manchester United career he was regarded as the best.
It has not played out like that and former Chelsea boss Frank Lampard dropped him for Caballero in February 2020 and, even though he won his place back after Project Restart, more errors followed.
Can Kepa come good at Chelsea? Have your say in the comments.
Arrizabalaga is a good shot stopper, but sometimes looks as if he lacks confidence to command his penalty box while his distribution was supposed to be a strong point and yet his kicking led to some pretty embarrassing mistakes.
Most notably at Brighton on the opening weekend of this season while a poor kick also let in Sadio Mane when Liverpool won at Stamford Bridge and the blame was put at Arrizabalaga’s door and Mendy was brought in and replaced him.
Still Chelsea wanted Arrizabalaga to succeed, were not prepared to give up on their investment and maybe Lampard’s reluctance to persevere with him was seen as a failing on the manager’s part rather than the keeper.
That shows that the club still believe in Arrizabalaga even though Mendy has become the regular No1. Arrizabalaga has played in the FA Cup and, even though he has played at Wembley since, this will be his first final. He was on the bench when they lost the final to Arsenal last year.
This is a fresh chance for Arrizabalaga – and he has to take it. He is three years younger than Mendy, has ambitions to be Spain’s No1 and is a very serious character who is focused and determined.
But clearly, Tuchel has seen enough to make him believe he should start the FA Cup final. And Tuchel is the manager who has got very little wrong since taking charge in January.
This must be seen as a gamble – but if Arrizabalaga can repay his manager’s faith and loyalty then it may just be the beginning of the road to redemption with a very good keeper in there determined to step out of the shadow of what happened two years ago.
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