Hybrid Havertz, in-game rotation and Rice’s first test: What we learned from Arsenal v Barcelona

Kai Havertz celebrates his goal against Barcelona - Arsenal v Barcelona analysis: Hybrid Kai Havertz, in-game rotation and Declan Rice’s first challenge

Kai Havertz looks set to transition between midfield and attack for Arsenal – Getty Images/David Price

Arsenal were the dominant team for most of the game and, in the stadium built by owners Kroenke Sports & Entertainment, they produced some scintillating attacking football.

Bukayo Saka, Kai Havertz, Leandro Trossard (twice) and Fabio Vieira all scored for Arsenal, who attacked throughout the match but did look defensively vulnerable at times. Robert Lewandowski and Raphinha struck for Barcelona in the first half, before Ferran Torres added a late consolation goal for Xavi’s side.

Fluidity in the front line

Arsenal started the night with Havertz in midfield, Trossard on the left wing and Gabriel Jesus as a central striker. Within 15 minutes of kick-off, all three of those players had appeared in all three of those positions. This is fluidity in the extreme, especially when Saka (who missed a first-half penalty) drifted inside to play centre-forward instead of Jesus, for a few minutes.

The swapping of positions is the result of the versatility that Arsenal have added to their team in recent transfer windows and, evidently, it makes them a far more complicated opponent. When it works, Arsenal will be an unpredictable side with a variety of attacking threats.

It will take some time for the system to be perfected, of course, and not all of Arteta’s players are capable of playing in multiple roles – Gabriel Martinelli, for example, is unlikely to pop up in a central midfield position any time soon. But it is becoming clear that Arsenal are trying to add in-game rotation to their list of attacking weapons as Arteta looks to evolve his side this season.

Gabriel Jesus is tackled by Barcelona's Ronald Araujo - Arsenal v Barcelona analysis: Hybrid Kai Havertz, in-game rotation and Declan Rice’s first challenge

Gabriel Jesus switched between the centre forward, wing and midfield positions in LA – Getty Images/David Price

Hybrid Havertz shows goal threat

It will be hard to define Havertz’s role this season. On the team sheet he will be listed as a central midfielder and, on this evidence, he will certainly play as a central midfielder when Arsenal do not have the ball.

But this friendly against Barcelona showed that there will be moments in matches when Havertz also plays as a forward. When Saka had the ball on the right wing in the first half here in Los Angeles, the German repeatedly attacked the back post.

Havertz was not picked out by Saka on the first few occasions he darted into the box, but the opportunity was always there and it was no surprise that the ball eventually fell his way. Saka’s cross found Martin Odegaard, whose downward header was prodded in by Havertz at the back post.

This is the sort of movement that never came naturally to Granit Xhaka, the man Havertz has replaced in that midfield position. As with Arsenal’s newfound fluidity, it is a sign of the difference that Havertz can make to this team and another explanation for why he was signed for £65 million.

Trossard shows his value again

Such was the excitement around Arsenal’s pursuit of Mykhailo Mudryk in January, there were many supporters who initially viewed the arrival of Trossard as something of a disappointment. Arsenal fans wanted the shiny new player from Ukraine, rather than the Brighton forward who cost a quarter of the price.

A few months down the line, though, there cannot be a single Arsenal supporter who would swap Trossard for Mudryk, who has struggled so much at Chelsea. The Belgian was Arsenal’s back-up option, yes, but his technical quality has added a different dimension to their forward play. Based on his form in pre-season, Trossard might consider himself the favourite to start in the left wing position when the campaign begins, ahead of Martinelli.

His two goals here were a demonstration of his best qualities. The first was a fierce left-footed effort, following a quick stepover, while his second was an instinctive volley from a more central position. Trossard can play in four different positions and the £21 million signing has already become one of Arsenal’s most useful players.

Leandro Trossard takes on Sergino Dest - Arsenal v Barcelona analysis: Hybrid Kai Havertz, in-game rotation and Declan Rice’s first challenge

Leandro Trossard’s form has put him a strong position for a place in Arsenal’s starting XI when the season starts – Getty Images/Ronald Martinez

Rice’s first challenge: displace Partey

Given the size of the transfer fee that Arsenal have paid for Declan Rice, the easy assumption to make is that he will come straight into the line-up for the start of the season.

It might not be so simple, though. It should not be forgotten how important Thomas Partey was for Arteta’s team last season, and that he was perhaps the league’s dominant defensive midfielder for most of the campaign. Partey knows the system and his role within it, in a way that Rice does not at this early stage of his Arsenal career.

Arsenal’s collapse in form at the end of last season went hand-in-hand with Partey’s dramatic dip in his own performances. That was not a coincidence. He remains a hugely important player and against Barcelona he was excellent at the base of the midfield, reading the play and stopping the opposition’s attacks. He also helped to start attacks with his passing.

For all the talk about Rice, Partey remains an Arsenal player (although do not rule out a transfer later in the window) and he remains a fundamental part of Arteta’s system. Rice (who missed this game with a minor niggle) is the future of this club, along with the other impressive youngsters, but he is not yet a guaranteed starter.

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