Welcome to the weird world of Kepa Arrizabalaga. It was impossible to know what to make of the £71.6m goalkeeper by the end of this entertaining Carabao Cup tie. He was at fault when Southampton cancelled out Chelsea’s lead, gifting Che Adams an equaliser when he failed to repel a Kyle Walker‑Peters shot, but he went on to make some stunning stops in the second half and finished as the hero after Thomas Tuchel’s side reached the last eight, winning on penalties.
This is becoming a speciality for Arrizabalaga, who had already helped Chelsea in shootout victories against Villarreal and Aston Villa this season. Against Southampton the Spaniard saved well from Theo Walcott and he went on to psyche out Will Smallbone, the substitute’s wild effort giving Reece James the chance to send the European champions through after a night of eccentric football.
James did not disappoint, rendering immaterial Fraser Forster’s brilliant save from Mason Mount earlier in the shootout, and Chelsea could celebrate a fourth consecutive win in all competitions. Marcos Alonso, Callum Hudson-Odoi and Ben Chilwell also tucked their penalties away.
For all the jubilation, though, Tuchel will be left with doubts about Arrizabalaga after his role in Southampton’s leveller. The manager will know that Édouard Mendy probably would have kept Chelsea ahead when Walker‑Peters shot from the right in the 47th minute. Unfortunately, Arrizabalaga is far less reliable and that has to be a concern for Tuchel given that Mendy is set to represent Senegal in the Africa Cup of Nations in January.
Chelsea will need Arrizabalaga to be far more imposing when Mendy is away, while Tuchel is unlikely to be making many alterations to his usual starting XI on the evidence of a messy collective performance from his heavily rotated side. Malang Sarr had a difficult night in defence and there were ineffective performances from Hakim Ziyech and Ross Barkley in attack.
Barkley simply looked surprised to be out there on his first start for Chelsea since August 2020, almost as though he expected someone to come on to the pitch and check his credentials.
At least there was a forceful display from Saúl Ñíguez, who was keen to impress in his fourth appearance since joining on loan from Atlético Madrid. The midfielder had an early header clawed over by Forster, who was eventually beaten when Kai Havertz broke the deadlock just before the break.
Havertz did well as a false No 9 in the absence of the injured Romelu Lukaku and Timo Werner. He went close early on with a swerving drive from 20 yards and he was dangerous when he had a chance to run at Southampton, drawing another good save from Forster with a rising shot.
The pleasing thing for Tuchel was that Havertz did not give up in the face of some strong challenges from Southampton. The German, who has had an inconsistent start to the season, can compete in the air and he used his physique to his advantage before the break, rising above Walker-Peters and glancing in Ziyech’s corner.
Chelsea, who were without César Azpilicueta, N’Golo Kanté, Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Andreas Christensen because of minor injuries, were not ahead for long. There were hints of vulnerability in their young back three of Reece James, Trevoh Chalobah and Sarr, who was often skittish under pressure.
Southampton had targeted Sarr’s lack of composure in possession during the first half and they eventually punished him, Walker-Peters driving in from the right before firing in a low drive that Arrizabalaga should have repelled. Instead it squirmed through the goalkeeper’s legs and Adams was free to scramble the loose ball home.
Now it was a proper contest. Forster denied Havertz a second time. Arrizabalaga plunged to his left to push away a bouncing effort from Adam Armstrong. “He has good experiences with us but we have to do it again and again,” Tuchel said. “Just because you won a penalty shootout does not mean you do it again.”
Tuchel responded to Southampton’s improvement, replacing Ziyech and Barkley with Mount and Chilwell. Hudson-Odoi moved forward from right wing-back and Chelsea almost regained their lead when Saúl swept wide.
Southampton soon hit back, Arrizabalaga’s sharp reflexes from Smallbone’s header keeping the scores level. On the touchline Tuchel, who had Chilwell playing out of position at right wing-back, was gesturing frantically.
Southampton were pushing harder in the end and Chelsea were indebted to Arrizabalaga, who made excellent saves from Lyanco Vojnovic and Mohammed Salisu. There would be more drama to come.