Arsenal already have a Kai Havertz problem

LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 6: Kai Havertz of Arsenal during The FA Community Shield match between Manchester City against Arsenal at Wembley Stadium on August 6, 2023 in London, England. (Photo by Matthew Ashton - AMA/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 6: Kai Havertz of Arsenal during The FA Community Shield match between Manchester City against Arsenal at Wembley Stadium on August 6, 2023 in London, England. (Photo by Matthew Ashton - AMA/Getty Images) /

Two wins from two games should mean all is well for Arsenal in the Premier League. Well, almost all. Mikel Arteta has one problem. Namely, what to do with £65m signing Kai Havertz.

Here’s a hint: playing him on the left side of central midfield isn’t working.

Havertz added a pedestrian performance during the 1-0 win away to Crystal Palace on Monday to an equally passive display in the 2-1 victory over Nottingham Forest. The former Chelsea man simply isn’t influencing games from the middle of the park.

The truth is; Havertz either works as a striker in the Robin van Persie mould or he’s nothing for Arsenal. Don’t believe me? Just ask former Gunners right-back Bacary Sagna:

"“He’s like Robin van Persie in the way he uses his body, he can cross and he’s technically very good. He could have scored but he created lots of chances, which is a positive.”"

Sagna was referring to Havertz drawing a blank during the FA Community Shield against Manchester City. He didn’t find the back of the net at Wembley, but Havertz showed enough up top to merit a longer look leading the line, especially in light of the injury to Gabriel Jesus.

Arteta had the chance to refine Havertz’s potential as a striker, but instead, the manager is hoping the player adapts to a challenging midfield role. The process is proving excruciating for everyone involved.

Kai Havertz struggling in a deeper role

It’s been easy to miss Havertz, even though he’s started both of Arsenal’s league fixtures. The phrase ‘anonymous‘ is becoming an unfortunate byword for the German international.

Even a cursory look at his numbers against Palace shows Havertz struggling to exert his influence. He mustered a mere 39 touches, 27 passes, and a single tackle and shot at Selhurst Park, according to Sky Sports.

The lack of positivity, Havertz managed just one key pass against the Eagles, was reflected in most observers’ player ratings. For instance, football writer Charles Watts correctly noted how Havertz “had plenty of touches, but didn’t cause any problems.”

Watts’ thoughts echo the assessment of Football.London’s Kaya Kaynak, who identified how “the game seemed to slow a little when it came to him.”

Crystal Palace 0-1 Arsenal: Player ratings as 10-man Gunners hold on. light. Related Story

Havertz needs to play in the areas of the pitch where he can make a more direct impact.

Kai Havertz up front gives Arsenal more options

The finishing touch still eludes him, but it’s hard to argue Havertz isn’t more of a threat when he’s acting like a No. 9. There were glimpses against City of how that threat makes Arsenal a more cogent attacking force.

An obvious example was this chance engineered by Martin Odegaard and Bukayo Saka.

Yes, Havertz should have done better, but the miss still showed the value of a true focal point. Havertz simply looks more comfortable playing with his back to goal and linking with wide forwards, than trying to run a game from the spine of the team.

Putting Havertz back up front would be a tough call for Arteta when Eddie Nketiah is performing well. There’s also the prospect of Jesus returning to claim his starting spot, although that needn’t be a major issue.

Jesus and Havertz operate more as roving nines instead of traditional centre-forwards. Havertz offers similar attributes as Jesus, so there’d be no change in playing style when the Brazilian is not available.

Havertz up front even creates more options in midfield. He would make room for Thomas Partey to partner Declan Rice, forming the most physical duo the Gunners have fielded since Gilberto Silva and Patrick Vieira underpinned The Invincibles.

Alternatively, Rice’s defensive nous could make it easier for Arteta to introduce a more creative type like Fabio Vieira or Emile Smith Rowe at the heart of the engine room. There’d be shades of Santi Cazorla’s 2014 transformation about going this route.

Havertz has time to make Arteta’s preferred midfield blueprint work, but playing the waiting game is risky and wishful thinking based on his early struggles.