Kepa Arrizabalaga: I’ll be ready to replace Edouard Mendy in January

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Kepa Arrizabalaga has insisted he “will be ready” for Chelsea in January when Edouard Mendy is likely to be away at the Africa Cup of Nations following more shoot-out heroics on Tuesday.

The Spaniard got the faintest of touches to save Theo Walcott’s penalty while Will Smallbone blazed over for Southampton to give the Blues a 4-3 spot-kick victory in the Carabao Cup last-16 tie.

It was a similar story in the previous round against Aston Villa and means Thomas Tuchel’s side are into the quarter-finals of the competition for the first time since they lost the 2019 final to Manchester City.

Kepa made only his fourth appearance of the campaign in the win over Southampton but it was the third time he had helped the club to penalty shoot-out success this season and he could be more regularly called upon in January when first-choice Mendy is set to be away for up to four weeks with Senegal at the AFCON.

But the £72million goalkeeper insisted: “Well, it’s two months away. Of course we know it can happen and I will be ready but we have a lot of games until we start thinking about that.

“Let’s go step by step and we’ll see what happens. If he goes to the African Cup, all the best and I’ll be ready. But it’s still a long way to arrive at that point.”

Chances continue to be few and far between for the Spain international but he recovered well after some sloppiness for Southampton’s equaliser where he only partially saved Kyle Walker-Peters’ effort with his legs and Che Adams was on hand to tap home.

That goal cancelled out Kai Havertz 44th-minute opener which had Chelsea on course for another routine win, having thrashed Norwich 7-0 on Saturday, but the visitors hit back and Kepa denied Adam Armstrong, Smallbone, Lyanco and Mohammed Salisu after the break to send the tie to spot-kicks.

“I’ve always said I try to help the team in the best way but I do feel really good at penalties,” admitted Kepa, who also inspired shoot-out success over Villarreal in the UEFA Super Cup final back in August.

“Of course I want to play more regularly. My last game was also a cup game, more or less a month ago, so it’s not easy to sometimes step in and feel the same as you would if you play every week.

“But I try to be ready, train hard, be involved in the team. Also, I feel the confidence of the manager – this is really important. I’ve felt his support from the beginning and I think when I step in I’m ready to help the team. I’m happy to do that.”

Kepa’s next opportunity is likely to be the Carabao Cup quarter-final in December before potentially more minutes in January, which the Spanish ace will hope includes a two-legged last-four clash in a competition Chelsea have not won since 2015.

“December and January here is so busy, a lot of games but we have the squad with big quality to play every game with a strong team,” he said.

“We’re ready to arrive to a final. Let’s go step by step, but of course that’s in our mind.”

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