Mon. May 20th, 2024

Havertz is reborn! Arsenal star is proving Bayern right

By Sanchez Apr 9, 2024
Havertz is reborn! Arsenal star is proving Bayern rightHavertz is reborn! Arsenal star is proving Bayern right

Few players attract such contrasting reactions as Arsenal’s Kai Havertz. To his fans, he is a highly-intelligent shapeshifter, capable of interpreting the centre-forward role in a unique way and allowing his team-mates to thrive. To his doubters, the £65 million ($82m) man is a donkey, with no amount of clever movement off the ball capable of papering over his unacceptable profligacy in front of goal.

While it’s true that Havertz is capable of blowing hot and cold, even his harshest critics would have struggled not to stand up and applaud his match-winning exploits against Brighton this weekend. Not only did he find the back of the net – finishing off Jorginho’s cutback superbly – to give the Gunners a much-needed two-goal cushion, he also helped put the game beyond all doubt by setting up Leandro Trossard for his side’s third.

That capped off what was probably Havertz’s best night in an Arsenal shirt yet, with manager Mikel Arteta keen to praise the German in his post-match press conference. “He’s certainly having a huge impact on the team,” Arteta said. “I think his overall performances have been really good and now his numbers in terms of goal contributions, are really, really high. He needs to maintain that level.”

Having a chance to shower the German with positive words must be a nice change of pace for the Gunners head coach. Earlier in the season, Arteta scarcely faced the media without someone asking a negatively-framed question abut his summer signing.

Gripes included his startling lack of goals, Havertz not truly having a ‘best’ position and allegations that he was disrupting Gabriel Martinelli’s output. Now though, the vast majority of these questions have been answered, which seemed rather unlikely when the German was at the lowest point of his slump.

Slow start

In truth, Havertz was always going to be facing an uphill struggle to prove himself worthy of the hefty fee Chelsea commanded for his services in the summer. His time at Stamford Bridge, though punctuated with glorious moments like his winner in the 2021 Champions League final, was largely underwhelming, and his Arsenal unveiling was greeted with plenty of head scratching.

A video of Havertz missing all 14 shots in the MLS Skills Challenge, combined with an underwhelming pre-season, did little to quiet these doubters, meaning Arsenal’s new arrival was under the microscope from the very-first minute of the Premier League season.

It’s understood that one of the reasons he left Chelsea was due to his desire to play in midfield, and Arteta initially acquiesced to this request. Early on, Havertz filled the No.8 spot vacated by Granit Xhaka, but he got off to an incredibly slow start. After 12 Premier League games, he had managed just one goal and one assist for the Gunners, with his solitary strike being an infamous ‘sympathy’ penalty gifted to him by his team-mates against Bournemouth. Unsurprisingly, the criticism soon started flooding in.

Mentally tough period

Rent-a-gob Richard Keys was one of the first high-profile names to get his digs in, giving a cruel assessment of Havertz’s performance in a 2-2 draw with Fulham back in August. “Now don’t jump down my throat when I say this, let me finish the statement: Havertz is the new Ozil… without the talent,” he mused.

Ex-Arsenal defender William Gallas was equally damning. “At the moment, Havertz isn’t performing. I was surprised to see him go to Arsenal. They could have got another player. It is difficult for him to find the right position. How Arsenal play is not the same as Chelsea – it’s hard for him at the moment. I don’t think he is going to be a success,” he said at the beginning of September.

Another former Gunners star, Emmanuel Petit, voiced concerns too. Speaking after Arsenal’s 2-1 victory over Manchester United, he claimed: “I felt pity for him on Sunday… I still believe he has great qualities. We haven’t seen this since he came to England and he’s struggling. But Sunday, he was hiding everywhere. If I was Arteta, I would put Havertz on the bench. Not as a punishment – that’s very important. Not as a punishment. But I would put him on the bench just to step back a little bit. He doesn’t have the confidence to bring what Arteta wants into the team… He’s scared. He’s scared of attempting things. He doesn’t dare to do anything on the pitch at the moment.”

Arteta keeps the faith

Amid this atmosphere, Arteta regularly found himself questioned about Havertz’s signing. The Gunners boss is not one to criticise players publicly, though even he let slip that he wanted more from his new arrival on a few occasions early on.

After that aforementioned Fulham game, Arteta said, when asked if Havertz would win over his doubters: “Yes, I think [he will win the fans over]. I think he’s done already really good things today. It was tough for him in certain moments, he got in great areas again and the ball didn’t arrive.

However, he did continue: “He’s had a lot of situations, he should have scored already a lot of goals this season, and that’s the thing that is missing there.”

He said similar ahead of the United game, drawing comparisons with Bukayo Saka and Aaron Ramsdale, who he felt had kicked on thanks to the support of the Emirates faithful. “The visual one – the one with the stats is what is missing at the moment, to put the ball in the net and to arrive in those zones and have a different impact on the game, but for the rest it’s that.”

Arteta’s most strident defence of Havertz came not through his press conferences, though, but via his continued selection of the German. Even while the outside world doubted the struggling star, Arteta carried on picking him and was eventually rewarded with a few standout moments.

Havertz came off the bench to grab a vital winner against Brentford in November, with his manager quite literally dragging him towards the travelling fans to soak in their adulation, while he also netted on starts against Luton Town and Brighton not long after. Each of those were important goals, too.

Opportunity presents itself

These match-winning contributions meant criticism of Havertz cooled slightly heading into the New Year – but there were still doubts in the back of many people’s minds over his ability to affect games consistently. Ironically, what has helped him ascend to key-player status under Arteta is returning to a position that he seemingly left west London to avoid.

Due to Gabriel Jesus’ injury struggles and Eddie Nketiah’s indifferent form, Havertz has been deployed as a nominal centre-forward in recent weeks – and it’s a role that he’s largely played to perfection, despite some shaky moments.

At first, it felt like the experiment was doomed to failure. Havertz was tried out up front in the FA Cup third-round against Liverpool and struggled, missing several big chances. In the aftermath of that result, Arteta’s transfer policy was scrutinised, with the decision to drop such a large sum on Havertz, as opposed to a proven goalscorer, being questioned most regularly. But the Gunners boss was not put off. Instead, he persisted with Havertz the No.9 – and it’s paid off more recently.

Critics eating their words

Havertz again led the line when Arsenal hosted Liverpool in the Premier League in early February and earned rave reviews for his clever movement, link-up play and ability to make the ball stick when the Gunners were forced to go direct. However, questions remained over his finishing, with Havertz missing a couple of good opportunities in the 3-1 victory.

But in February and March, everything seemed to finally click into place in that regard. Havertz scored in four successive Premier League games during this time, with Burnley, Newcastle, Sheffield United and Brentford all tasting his wrath.

And when Arsenal travelled to the Etihad to face Premier League title rivals Manchester City, he impressed again, working extremely hard and giving his side an outlet ball to bypass the press. Similarly stellar displays against Brighton and Luton now mean that Havertz boasts nine goal contributions in his last seven games. In other words, Arteta’s demands for a more concrete output from his big-money signing have finally been met.

It’s a quite remarkable turnaround for a player who was told by ESPN pundit Frank Lebeouf that his best position was “on the bench” just a few short months ago. Amid these jibes, Havertz deserves real credit for his resilience.

Transfer decision vindicated

And Havertz has a chance to raise his standing among the Arsenal fanbase further over the next week or so. While the German has helped the Gunners position themselves strongly in the three-way Premier League title race of late, their Champions League dream also remains alive.

Bayern Munich will be their visitors on Tuesday in the first leg of the two sides’ quarter-final tie, and after getting off to a shaky start in their last-16 triumph over Porto in the last round, Arsenal will be looking to make amends by putting in a strong performance in front of their home fans.

Of course, Harry Kane – the Gunners’ long-time tormentor during his time at Tottenham – will be lining up for the Bundesliga giants, and Havertz might have also been on the German side of this divide had the transfer window gone differently. Bayern were heavily linked with the attacker towards the tail end of last season, but Arsenal got the deal done ahead of them.

Havertz could have easily drummed up Die Roten’s interest in him and returned to the Bundesliga, where he was such a success with Bayer Leverkusen. Instead, he took the braver option, deciding to try and improve his Premier League legacy at Arsenal.

For a while, this might have seemed like the wrong choice, but with Bayern floundering domestically and Havertz back at the top of his game, that transfer call is looking increasingly vindicated.

By Sanchez

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