At the heart of Chelsea’s defensive woes, Kepa Arrizabalaga had a year to forget. It was a record-breaking season for all the wrong reasons, as the Spaniard failed to perform time after time under Frank Lampard.
The numbers alone tell a story. Kepa’s save percentage of 54% was a record low in the Premier League, the worst ever recorded in the league’s history for goalkeepers with more than 10 appearances. Out of 132 goalkeepers in Europe’s top seven leagues, he ranked 127th with his save percentage.
A disastrous season to say the least.
It is therefore no surprise that Chelsea have been searching for a new goalkeeper, and it looks like they have found one. Stade Rennais’ Édouard Mendy is set to sign for the Blues, ending their pursuit of a new option between the sticks.
Mendy had an excellent season in Ligue 1, with a save percentage of 76% as Rennes finished third. He can prove to be an excellent investment from the Blues, though the pressure is on to revitalise their defensive status and help transform them into a force to reckon with.
Another goalkeeper signing on won't be good news for Arrizabalaga, but it was inevitable. Willy Caballero already forced the 25-year-old to the bench on a number of occasions last season, and with a new shot-stopper now arriving at Stamford Bridge, the situation has changed drastically.
Arrizabalaga must overcome the first test with the new season’s start, and whether he starts over Caballero or remains resigned to the bench. With his goalkeeper compatriot turning 39 at the end of September, Kepa needs to get off to the best possible start to stay in contention.
Lampard clearly wanted a new goalkeeper, and he is about to get one. But Mendy is not a clear choice for number one. He could come straight into the team and displace Arrizabalaga, provide strengthened backup or come in on a rotation basis: whatever role he has to play in west London, he will be a valuable asset to the Blues.
However, Mendy’s arrival is not the final straw for Arrizabalaga.
If Chelsea signed an already world-class, expensive goalkeeper, there would be no doubt that they would instantly become number one. But while Mendy is a good goalkeeper and a solid choice, there is no guarantee over who would be first choice for Lampard.
Arrizabalaga is still a Chelsea player, and as long as he stays at the club, he will be fighting for his place. He is said to be eager to stay rooted and battle it out for the starting spot in what is his biggest shot yet at redemption. It is now or never for Kepa: he simply has to prove his quality and worth.
We have seen what Arrizabalaga is capable of, both good and bad. Last season was a display of his worst form, but his first year under Maurizio Sarri was impressive. Penalty shootout heroics - albeit with controversy in the Carabao Cup final - solid performances and a Europa League triumph capped off a decent debut in blue.
This season will be the toughest test Arrizabalaga has faced so far in his career. Added competition from a new signing, fighting harder than ever for his spot and aiming for serious redemption, both among the fans and the management. It will be a test of his ability, mentality and professionalism, which will make or break his Stamford Bridge status.
The fact that he even has another chance shows faith and belief from the club, hopes that he can be back to his best and see out his seven-year contract. Selling their record signing would not have been easy, but Chelsea are taking a gamble by leaving the door open and putting their confidence in Arrizabalaga.
Could this be the greatest comeback from Arrizabalaga, or will Mendy swoop in to steal the number one spot? Let the battle commence.