Kepa started for the third time under Thomas Tuchel and kept a clean sheet once more to ensure Chelsea progressed to the FA Cup semi-finals
For only the second time in his Chelsea career, Kepa Arrizabalaga has kept three successive clean sheets.
But the Spaniard insists he can’t take sole credit for that achievement.
After enduring a miserable 2019/20 campaign under Frank Lampard and a difficult start to the current season, Chelsea opted to sign Edouard Mendy from Rennes and the Senegal international instantly established himself as the club’s first-choice goalkeeper.
Kepa was demoted to the bench and Lampard only used the 26-year-old in the FA Cup victories over Morecambe and Luton Town, in the latter of which Kepa made a mistake for the Hatters’ consolation goal.
The appointment of Thomas Tuchel at the end of January hasn’t altered Kepa’s status – he remains deputy to Mendy.
However, the German coach has attempted to rebuild the brittle confidence of the world’s most expensive goalkeeper.
After Kepa kept a clean sheet in the FA Cup fifth-round victory over Barnsley, he was handed a start in the Premier League against Newcastle United. Another shutout followed.
“It is our job to push Kepa to the limit, to trust him and to build up his strengths,” Tuchel said last month.
“We rely on him and we need three strong goalkeepers to fulfil our dream and fulfil our goals.”
Kepa had to wait until yesterday’s FA Cup quarter-final clash with Sheffield United to get another opportunity to impress, and it’s one he took.
The goalkeeper made several important stops to keep the Blades at bay and ensure Chelsea clinch a seventh successive clean sheet, a club record-equalling achievement.
“In the last matches, we are defending very well,” Kepa told Chelsea’s website after the game.
“That’s not only the goalkeeper, it’s teamwork.
“It’s good for everybody to keep a clean sheet because it means you always have one point. Then you can go for three.”
He added: “Now we have a break for the national teams but we have to keep going.
We are in good form and have exciting games ahead after the break.
So we have to prepare well and keep on going.”
Prior to Sunday’s game, Kepa discovered that for the first time since joining Chelsea in the summer of 2019, he hadn’t been selected to represent Spain.
The goalkeeper had ousted Manchester United stopper David de Gea last season despite his shaky form for Chelsea and Tuchel understands the omission will be a blow.
“I’m pretty sure for Kepa that it’s a disappointment not to be selected right now but he is our player and it does not influence how we work with him, how we trust him and how we keep on going,” Tuchel explained last week.
“Would it be easier if he plays on a regular basis? Clearly yes but it’s not about personal objectives, it’s about Chelsea.
Edou [Mendy] is the number one and he [Kepa] is the competitor for that so he has to be ready and I can only say he is doing exactly that.
He is 100% reliable, a top guy, top goalkeeper with top performances in training together with Willy Caballero.
“Can we influence the decision of the Spanish national coach? No, we cannot. Everything he can do is focus and be ready.
This is what he is doing and it’s why I’m super happy with him.”