Four games into his West Ham United career, goalkeeper Alphonse Areola is yet to concede – and Wednesday’s clean sheet against Manchester City was arguably his most impressive clean sheet so far.
Pep Guardiola’s Citizens side arrived at London Stadium having not been defeated in the Carabao Cup since some 1,827 days ago – in October 2016 – and with a place in this season’s quarter-finals on the line.
But having shut out neighbours Manchester United in a 1-0 win at Old Trafford in the third round, Areola was once again imperious in keeping a clean sheet against their local rivals in east London, a 0-0 draw paving the way for a 5-3 West Ham win on penalty kicks.
It was a magnificent result to accompany a truly resilient team performance, with Areola superb in pulling off strong saves from John Stones’ close-range header and Raheem Sterling’s deflected effort and – showing quick reflexes – kicking clear just as Ilkay Gündoğan’s looked set to score.
I was happy to help the team, to give my maximum and in the end it was just amazing, the atmosphere was fantastic
“Tonight was incredible,” Areola surmised, speaking to West Ham TV. “The team was amazing, the Stadium was full and the supporters were behind us to push us and to help us to win that game.
“It was me, but it was the team as well. We worked very hard to keep that score, to keep that clean sheet, so it’s not just about me – it’s about the whole team, from the striker right through to me. It was a great performance and a clean sheet!”
Areola’s most spectacular – and perhaps vital – save of the night came when he dived across his goalmouth to turn away Stones’ powerful header from Kevin De Bruyne’s cross.
But the Frenchman was generally impressive throughout as well, anchoring a hard-working defensive back four in which the likes of Ben Johnson, Craig Dawson, Issa Diop and Aaron Cresswell once again excelled.
Queried for his favourite save, Areola replied: “I would say, if I had to pick one, the header from Stones maybe. It was a cross, a header and I was ready to react and save that goal.
“I was happy to help the team, to give my maximum and in the end it was just amazing, the atmosphere was fantastic.
“Of course, we want to play in this kind of game. Tonight, there was a big team in front of us. We showed lots of good things and we are happy with our performance. It shows that we can compete with the great teams.
“The whole squad is in the same focus, searching for the same things. We have to keep going like that. We have a good mentality and we want to win things, so that’s a good thing.”
When penalty kicks eventually arrived, Areola had done his homework with goalkeeping coach Xavi Valero, guessing the right way prior to Phil Foden’s crucial miss as the Hammers subsequently proved faultless in converting their own five kicks.
After four clean sheets and a penalty shoot-out win, Areola has already had much to celebrate in Claret and Blue.
“We watched a lot the penalties with Xavi,” Areola recalled. “I just went to the right side and tried to push as much as I could, and lucky for us we won that one!
“It’s been a great start, and of course I’m happy with that. It’s a good start, it’s a good thing for me, but without the guys, I couldn’t do it by myself.
“They helped me, I helped them, and that’s it. It’s teamwork.”
Areola also reserved words of praise for the sell-out London Stadium crowd, who were in fine voice throughout and celebrated the penalty shoot-out victory with relief and utter delight.
The Frenchman said of his new fanbase: “They are really important with that situation.
“We are really happy to have them with us, away and at home, so they’re pushing us. Let’s keep working hard for them as well to keep their smiles, and to keep them with us.”