Kepa Arrizabalaga deserves credit for handling the pressure on his Premier League return

16 February 2021 02:15

Thomas Tuchel has caused quite a few stirs with his team selection since joining Chelsea, but none were bigger than the one made by his decision to bench Edouard Mendy for Monday's meeting with Newcastle and bring Kepa Arrizabalaga back in from the cold.

The world's most expensive goalkeeper, Arrizabalaga had just posted some of the worst save numbers in Premier League history and hadn't played a minute in the competition since October's 3-3 draw with Southampton, in which he made the kind of error which has come to define his time at Stamford Bridge.

Arrizabalaga's recall had fans terrified | Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

Pointing out all of Arrizabalaga's flaws and poor performances has been easy, but the Spaniard deserves a boatload of credit for how he dealt with the pressure of being back in the spotlight for the first time in months.

Arrizabalaga doesn't exactly have the best track record against Newcastle. It was at St. James' Park in January 2020 that he flapped at an Isaac Hayden header to hand the Magpies a 1-0 victory, and that history only ramped up the pressure on him.

Fans were sat waiting for a mistake. This is a man whose reputation is so low that a misplaced pass early in the game nearly caused a full-scale meltdown on Twitter. Talk of the board bossing Tuchel around was rife. Because a professional footballer was playing in a match, a team's fanbase nearly imploded.

Knowing one major mistake would see him crucified, Arrizabalaga kept his composure and put in the kind of steady performance fans have been pleading to see from him for over 12 months.

Mendy was dropped to the bench | Clive Mason/Getty Images

Did he do anything outstanding? No, but he did enough to look like a Premier League goalkeeper. He acrobatically kept out a header from Joe Willock that looked destined for the corner of the net - the kind of save we haven't seen from Arrizabalaga for months - and brought himself out of his comfort zone to command crosses in the penalty area.

For a man who has been berated to the point that he felt the need to turn off his Twitter replies, Arrizabalaga looked like he wanted to be there on Monday. He wanted to play for Chelsea and prove himself. For that, you just have to say fair play.

Seeing Timo Werner end his 1,000-minute goal drought and celebrate with his team-mates was a touching moment, but perhaps the most heartfelt part of this game was seeing Arrizabalaga celebrating on Twitter afterwards.

It was the first post on which he allowed replies since November 2020. Arrizabalaga was clearly happy with his performance and keen to rebuild his relationship with the Chelsea fanbase, and he deserves all the credit in the world for that.

Tuchel has already confirmed that Mendy will return to the starting lineup and remain the first-choice goalkeeper, and that's the right move. Arrizabalaga has a lot more to do before he merits a permanent starting role at Stamford Bridge, but this was an enormous first step.

It will have worked wonders for Arrizabalaga's confidence and should hopefully spur him on to continue working on his shortcomings. He might never look like a £71m goalkeeper, but if Tuchel can bring his value up anywhere close to that, he'll have done a decent job with him.

The praise probably won't ever be as loud as the disrespect, but let's give Arrizabalaga credit where credit is due.


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Source: 90min