Gabriel Jesus’ latest injury absence should change Mikel Arteta and Arsenal’s plans for Kai Havertz.
Losing Gabriel Jesus to injury is far from ideal preparation for what’s supposed to be a coming-of-age season for Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal project. Arteta has multiple options for replacing his main striker, who is set to miss “a few weeks,” with a recurrence of a knee problem, according to football.london’s Kaya Kaynak, but the best choice might be to trust new boy Kai Havertz as a false nine.
Leading the line would be nothing new for Havertz. He’s done it for Chelsea and Germany, so he wouldn’t need time to get up to speed, a useful advantage since there’s a short turnaround before the games start to matter.
The Community Shield against Manchester City on Sunday is the ideal time to give Havertz his chance. Arteta should find out how much of Robin van Persie there is in Hazertz’s game, rather than play the latter on the left side of central midfield.
Arsenal need new Kai Havertz plan
Dropping Havertz into the middle had been the plan, but Jesus’ injury puts a different slant on things. So does Thomas Partey not seeking pastures new.
Partey staying put means Arteta has all the options he needs for the engine room. There’s no doubt £105m man Declan Rice should start, and he’ll form a strong tandem alongside either Partey or pass master Jorginho.
That would leave Havertz vying to play either on the flanks or at the tip of the attack. Yet, he’s not going to supplant Martin Odegaard as Arsenal’s creator-in-chief, nor is Havertz likely to play on the wings, where Gabriel Martinelli and Bukayo Saka have proved most effective.
Like Saka and Martinelli, Havertz has an instinct for goal, but he’s more of a physical presence. The 24-year-old proved himself a force in the air for Chelsea, per numbers from Orbinho.
Arteta’s team needs somebody up top who can put himself about a bit and play with his back to goal if needed. It’s what the group missed when Jesus was injured last season, despite Eddie Nketiah’s undoubtedly sharp eye for goal.
While his scoring record for the Blues wouldn’t make anybody throw their hands up in awe, Havertz does possess the knack for getting into excellent scoring positions. With a little work to time his runs, that quality could make him lethal in an Arsenal side built to boss possession and create and recycle chances.
There have already been signs that the former Bayer Leverkusen star could establish himself as a consistent goal threat in Arsenal colours.
Arsenal’s new boy already plays like a striker
His first Arsenal goal showed how effective Havertz can make himself inside the box. A ghosting run to the back post left him free to take a touch and drill a shot home against the MLS All-Stars.
While Havertz made this dart from midfield, it’s not a stretch to imagine him taking up the same position after idling further up the pitch. Especially since arriving at the back stick to cap a team move with a decisive touch is something of a happy habit for Havertz.
He did it again in more pre-season action, this time against Barcelona.
Most strikers have a go-to move, an old faithful that gets them most of their goals. The back post appears to be Havertz’s favourite hunting ground, the same way a near-post run was Olivier Giroud’s signature route to finding the back of the net.
Having Havertz play as a striker who’s not really a striker would open up other exciting possibilities. Like allowing Arteta to deploy a more defensively-solid duo at the base of midfield, while also giving Martinelli, Odegaard and Saka more opportunities to rotate positions and attack spaces vacated by a roving false nine.