New-look Kai Havertz can be Arsenal’s missing link

Kai Havertz - New-look Kai Havertz can be Arsenal’s missing link

Kai Havertz should be aiming to increase his Chelsea goal tally from last season – Getty Images/David Price

Off the pitch, Kai Havertz has kept it simple in these first few weeks of his Arsenal career. When the time came for the German to perform his initiation song in front of his team-mates, for example, he went for a karaoke favourite – Wonderwall by Oasis – instead of anything more adventurous.

‌On the pitch, there has been nothing simple about Havertz’s new role at his new club. Arsenal have signed him predominantly to replace Granit Xhaka in their midfield but Havertz has already shown, after just four pre-season friendlies, that he will approach the position in an entirely different way to his predecessor.

‌From the moment Arsenal decided to pay £65 million for Havertz it was obvious that Mikel Arteta and sporting director Edu had a clear plan in mind. Already, that vision is beginning to take shape: Havertz scored two goals in three games on the club’s tour of the United States and, against Barcelona this week, he looked sharp and dangerous from the centre of midfield.

‌Well, not quite from the centre of midfield. Describing Havertz as a midfielder only does half the job, because so far in an Arsenal shirt he has managed to play as both a midfielder and a forward, at the same time. It is already evident that the 24-year-old has been given the freedom and encouragement to attack the box at every opportunity, in a way that never came naturally to Xhaka.

‌Both of Havertz’s goals in the US came at the back post. Both came when the ball was crossed from the right-hand side. Against Barcelona in Los Angeles, Havertz might have added a couple more if the deliveries from the right flank had been more accurate. Whenever the ball went to the feet of Bukayo Saka on the wing, Havertz darted towards the back post.

‌“I always have to arrive there,” said Havertz about his new role and the expectation on him to attack the penalty area. “I think it is important for my position, and also with my height. I want to score goals, it is part of my game. Hopefully it works more times in the league now.”

‌How many goals Havertz might score from midfield this season, if he stays fit and continues to make those runs into dangerous areas? Xhaka, who did not possess the same aerial threat or attacking instincts, struck seven times in the league last season. In the optimistic glow of pre-season, double figures seems entirely possible for Havertz.

Kai Havertz #29 of Arsenal controls the ball against Robert Lewandowski #9 of Barcelona in the first half of a pre-season friendly match at SoFi Stadium on July 26, 2023 in Inglewood

Havertz has already scored twice in pre-season for Arsenal – Getty Images/Ronald Martinez

‌Thomas Tuchel, Havertz’s former manager at Chelsea, once asked whether the player did not need to be given a defined position. “Is he a kind of hybrid?” said Tuchel a few years ago.

‌These remain the earliest of early days in Havertz’s Arsenal career, but that “hybrid” description feels accurate. Aside from those moments when he has launched himself into the penalty area, Havertz has dropped into midfield to help Arsenal circulate the ball. Part-forward, part-midfielder, depending on the moment.

‌“I really enjoy it, to play in this position,” he said. “I am more on the ball, I am more integrated in the game. I think I have a lot of room to improve – I am still adapting. [But] so far it is working quite well.

‌“Obviously it is a completely different style of football than what we played at Chelsea. I think it is a style that suits me very well. Of course, it always takes a bit of a while to get used to that. I have been here for two and a half weeks. It is going to take some time, but I am giving everything to try to perform on a high level.”

‌Defensively, Havertz is still learning where he needs to be and when. In contrast to those penalty-box runs, this is an area of the game where Xhaka was a natural. Havertz is instinctively a more forward-thinking player and the required positional discipline may take some time to learn. Against Barcelona, he was booked for trying to stop a counter-attack, with Arsenal’s midfield wide open.

‌The hope at the club will be that Havertz is in the right place, with the right manager and the right environment, to add these qualities to his game in the immediate future. Arsenal were eager to conduct the most important of their transfer business early this summer – Havertz, Declan Rice and Jurrien Timber all signed before the start of their tour – and this has given the trio more time to adapt.

‌“The team is amazing and it definitely feels like home already,” said Havertz. “They have made it very easy for me to integrate with the team. It is fun to be with them, they are all so young and hungry. This is exactly what I wanted. I am very happy to be here.”

You might also like...