By Gary Cotterill, Sky Sports News reporter
Last Updated: 03/07/20 6:38pm
Kepa Arrizabalaga is backing Chelsea to challenge for the Premier League title in the near future.
Before defeat at West Ham on Wednesday, Chelsea had won their last five games in all competitions – a run that has seen Frank Lampard nominated as Premier League manager of the month.
Their impressive form, style of play and activity in the transfer market already this summer, has led to some, including Sky Sports pundit Paul Merson and former Chelsea player Shaun Wright-Phillips, tipping them as title contenders.
“Let’s hope we are talking in a year’s time and that we are candidates to challenge those two teams (Liverpool and Manchester City),” the goalkeeper tells Sky Sports News.
“We have a great squad and we have a great manager. We can’t deny the gap, in points, between us and the top two, but I’m confident we can close that gap next season.
“We know we need to improve, but it is a hope we all have. There’s a confidence that it is possible.”
That run of successive wins coincided with Arrizabalaga’s return to the starting line-up.
A dip in form had seen the world’s most expensive goalkeeper replaced throughout January and February by Willy Caballero.
Chelsea vs Watford
July 4, 2020, 7:45pm
The 25-year-old, however, took it in his stride.
“The manager is there to choose what he considers the best XI,” he says.
“Whenever you are left out of the side, you take it in the spirit it is intended. You put it down to experience, a fresh experience in your life, and you just keep working hard.
“I’m ambitious and I’ve always had the attitude that through hard work and training hard you are ready for the next challenge.”
Arrizabalaga continues to be linked with a move away from west London. Chelsea, rightly or wrongly, continue to be linked with replacement goalkeepers.
But the Spaniard doesn’t talk like a man with an eye on a future elsewhere.
“I’m young, I’m lucky enough to be playing for a fantastic club,” he says.
“I’m part of the national set up with Spain as well. The team (Chelsea) have been having a good feeling about ourselves.
“There’s a good spirit about how we’ve been playing. And individually I feel good. I want to help the team achieve its targets.”
Arrizabalaga is predicting an immediate bounce back to form after that bad night at the London Stadium.
“We feel strong mentally and very fit physically, and we hope for an end of season that is great, positive and can be celebrated,” he says.
Arrizabalaga had enjoyed two clean sheets in a row before football was put on hold, against Liverpool in the FA Cup and Everton in the Premier League.
He decided to stay in London during lockdown, but didn’t get homesick. Another hint that he’s happy at Chelsea.
“We were one of the first teams because [Callum Hudson-Odoi] had a positive test. It all happened very suddenly. I didn’t want to put members of my family at risk by travelling,” he says.
So, away from loved ones, how did he keep occupied?
“I just took things step by step. I paid close attention to the news. I saw it as an opportunity to do stuff I never normally have time for. Tidying the house and doing some cooking,” he adds.
Domestic duties done, Arrizabalaga is now targeting domestic trophies.