Kepa Arrizabalaga: Why Maurizio Sarri may not be able to afford to sideline Chelsea goalkeeper

By the time Kepa Arrizabalaga had finished his message to the Chelsea squad and staff, some had become convinced, and were willing to accept his apology.

There had been some differences among the players about the goalkeeper’s conduct at the end of the League Cup final. Some didn’t mind. Some had been angry with him. His intended replacement, Willy Caballero, was among the latter and was seen furiously smashing a ball off the wall of the tunnel. Maurizio Sarri had of course angrily headed down that way himself as Kepa refused to come off, only to turn back.

The last 24 hours also represents something of a turnaround.

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The fact that Kepa has had to apologise and been fined a week’s wages indicates the whole thing has been more than the “misunderstanding” that was so resolutely the club’s message in the immediate aftermath of the League Cup final.

Sarri now insists the incident is in the past, but its aftereffects may not be. The Italian admitted he hasn’t yet decided if Kepa will play against Tottenham Hotspur, and that the controversy could come into it.


Player ratings from Chelsea vs Man City





1/22 Kepa Arrizabalaga – 5

2/22 Cesar Azpilicueta – 7

3/22 Antonio Rudiger – 7

4/22 David Luiz – 6

5/22 Emerson Palmieri – 7

6/22 N’Golo Kante – 8

7/22 Jorginho – 6

8/22 Ross Barkley – 6

9/22 Pedro – 5

10/22 Eden Hazard – 8

11/22 Willian – 6

12/22 Ederson – 6

13/22 Kyle Walker – 6

14/22 Nicolas Otamendi – 7

15/22 Aymeric Laporte – 5

16/22 Oleksandr Zinchenko – 5

17/22 Kevin De Bruyne – 4

18/22 Fernandinho – 7

19/22 David Silva – 5

20/22 Bernardo Silva – 6

21/22 Sergio Aguero – 6

22/22 Raheem Sterling – 7

1/22 Kepa Arrizabalaga – 5

2/22 Cesar Azpilicueta – 7

3/22 Antonio Rudiger – 7

4/22 David Luiz – 6

5/22 Emerson Palmieri – 7

6/22 N’Golo Kante – 8

7/22 Jorginho – 6

8/22 Ross Barkley – 6

9/22 Pedro – 5

10/22 Eden Hazard – 8

11/22 Willian – 6

12/22 Ederson – 6

13/22 Kyle Walker – 6

14/22 Nicolas Otamendi – 7

15/22 Aymeric Laporte – 5

16/22 Oleksandr Zinchenko – 5

17/22 Kevin De Bruyne – 4

18/22 Fernandinho – 7

19/22 David Silva – 5

20/22 Bernardo Silva – 6

21/22 Sergio Aguero – 6

22/22 Raheem Sterling – 7

“He made a mistake,” Sarri said. “A big mistake. There are some consequences. If the consequence is to play, he has to be ready to play. If the consequence is the bench, he has to be ready to go to the bench.”

And yet there is also something of a dilemma here for Sarri. Anyone would understand if he dropped Kepa on a point of principle. It would be deserved. The only issue is that would immediately prolong this story as a problem and see it go on.

The easier decision is to just play him, so everyone puts Sunday behind them, but that also reflects the difficult spot both the club and the manager are in.

As a 23-year-old £71m signing for a position that doesn’t generally see players peak until their thirties, Kepa represents a huge investment for the club, far bigger than any manager, and particularly at a point where they are facing up to a two-window transfer ban pending appeal. That is probably more relevant here than a lot of the talk about modern player power. The bare maths means such players are always somewhat insulated.

The wonder on Wednesday will be whether Sarri makes a decision that insulates the club from this becoming a further issue, or makes a stand. 

“It will be a decision for the [good of the] group,” Sarri continued. “For the other players, all the players.”

“I have to decide for my group. Not with my group. I want to send a message to my group. The message could be Kepa is on the pitch, or Kepa is out the pitch.”

And it could be an even bigger message than usual, with the potential to make this a bigger issue than it’s been.

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