Subscriber OnlySoccer

Ken Early: Frank Lampard’s problems start at number one

Arrizabalaga has endured a nightmare season behind a clearly suspect defence

By the standards of recent FA Cup finals, the Aubameyang Final was a stone-cold classic; it was just a shame there was so few there to see it.

The Arsenal captain's second goal at least gave the game a moment worth remembering, though for Frank Lampard, the ease with which Hector Bellerin ran through the centre of his team t0create the goal must have felt worryingly familiar.

Arsenal's patient, tenacious performance was in keeping with the attitude instilled by Mikel Arteta, the Guardiola protegé who Arsenal hope will one day bring Guardiola-style football.

In fact, Arteta’s main short-term impact has been to make Arsenal more conservative. When you compare the matches Arteta has coached compared to the ones when Unai Emery was in charge, the major difference is that under Arteta, Arsenal are scoring less and conceding less.


They are pressing less, and the pressing that they do takes place closer to their own goal. In terms of reconnecting Arsenal with the prouder parts of their club traditions, Arteta’s first few months have been less Arsene Wenger, more George Graham.

The dominant teams in English football have typically been built this way, from the back: Alex Ferguson already had Bruce and Pallister before integrating Giggs and Cantona, Wenger had the Graham defence already in place when he added Vieira, Overmars and Anelka, and so on.

Arsenal's situation is slightly different. For years they have been regarded as a soft touch, as an arrogant and deluded club

It doesn’t necessarily have to be done in that order. Look how Jurgen Klopp tackled the job at Liverpool – his first big signing was Sadio Mane, followed by Mohamed Salah. He put together the attack before fixing the defence. The defensive superstars Virgil van Dijk and Alisson were actually the last major players to arrive.

Maybe the approach you take should be tailored to the situation you inherit. Klopp’s priority was to fire up the supporters. He wanted goals, tempo, energy, noise.

Arsenal’s situation is slightly different. For years they have been regarded as a soft touch, as an arrogant and deluded club who believe they are better than they really are. Arteta’s task is to make people take them seriously again, and if that means an initial emphasis on defence, well, taking pride in defending is part of the Arsenal story too.

Spend big

You could charitably say that Frank Lampard is taking the Klopp route. His team scored 100 goals in all competitions, but their shock and awe barrage of summer signings has focused on attacking reinforcements. It’s already Chelsea’s most ambitious summer of new transfers since 2014, and may yet be their most significant squad strengthening since the mega-sprees of the early Abramovich era in 2003 and 2004.

With most of their rivals paralysed by financial uncertainty given the risks of further pandemic disruption, and Uefa's Financial Fair Play regulations in disarray following the failure of the disciplinary action against Manchester City, Chelsea have decided the moment has come to spend big.

Timo Werner’s 28 league goals for RB Leipzig meant he finished fourth in the race for the European Golden Shoe, behind only Cristiano Ronaldo, Robert Lewandowski and the surprise winner, Lazio’s Ciro Immobile.

Take penalties out of the reckoning, however, and Werner is second only to Lewandowski – just three of his 28 league goals came from the penalty spot, compared to 12 of Ronaldo’s 31, and 14 of Immobile’s 36.

Hakim Ziyech is joining to replace Willian as the starting right-winger, and if Chelsea succeed in signing the brilliant attacking midfielder Kai Havertz from Leverkusen, they will have offensive options to match any team in world football.

But what happens at the back? They have conceded 75 goals in 54 matches this campaign. In the league they finished with a goal difference of +15 – which is their worst performance of the 21st century with the exception of the 2015-16 “Mourinho meltdown” season.

Lampard's 'ruthless' attitude towards Kepa has drawn praise, but many other managers might envy him the luxury of such ruthlessness

Annoyingly for Lampard, expected goals modelling suggests his team should have done much better. Chelsea have conceded 54 league goals, but xG models suggest they should only have conceded around 40, based on the quality of chances they coughed up throughout the season.

Huge discrepancy

What is the reason for this huge discrepancy?

It has not escaped anybody’s notice that Kepa Arrizabalaga finished the season with the worst save percentage of all 108 goalkeepers who played more than 1,000 minutes in the top five European leagues.

He stopped only 54 per cent of the shots he faced in the league this season. Jordan Pickford, the regular Premier League goalkeeper with the next-worst save percentage, saved 63 per cent.

This is why Lampard ran out of patience with Kepa in the last few weeks of the season and started leaving his record signing on the bench.

But Kepa's replacement in goal is Willy Caballero, who, besides being the oldest player to feature in the Premier League this season, has managed to save only 56 per cent of the shots he has faced – a ratio hardly any better than Kepa.

Clearly Caballero is not really a solution – picking Caballero is more about Lampard sending the message to the board that he needs a new goalkeeper.

Lampard’s ‘ruthless’ attitude towards Kepa has drawn praise, but many other managers might envy him the luxury of such ruthlessness.

Before this season, Kepa’s save percentage had fluctuated between 67 per cent and 77 per cent. Why has it fallen so low, and can anything be done to restore him to his previous level? It looks like Lampard is in too much of a hurry to figure out the answers to these questions. In the meantime, he’s lucky enough to be at a club where he can buy his way out of trouble.