How Gabriel Jesus is getting the best out of Kai Havertz

  • Kai Havertz endured rocky start to Arsenal career
  • German has three goals in his last three starts
  • Gabriel Jesus has been key to recent upsurge
Gabriel Jesus and Kai Havertz have worked in harmony as of late
Gabriel Jesus and Kai Havertz have worked in harmony as of late / Nigel French/Allstar/GettyImages

The 2022/23 campaign was one of refreshing novelty for Arsenal supporters, but at the elite level, it doesn't take long for novelty to evolve into predictability.

Thus, when the season ended following a stuttering conclusion which resulted in no silverware, Mikel Arteta became fully aware of the necessity to change tack. Experiments were undertaken in pre-season and at the start of the 2023/24 campaign with varying degrees of success, but there was one glaring issue the boss couldn't quite fix.

The Granit Xhaka-shaped hole in Arsenal's midfield is yet to be filled. The Swiss international was such an integral role of the Gunners' 3-2-5 possession structure last season, contributing almost exclusively from the left half-space.

Despite Xhaka moving on in the summer, Arsenal certainly weren't short of replacements. Emile Smith Rowe, Fabio Vieira, and new arrival Kai Havertz were all regarded as potential fits for the 'Xhaka role'.

And while many will claim that none of the aforementioned names have replaced Xhaka as such, Arteta's recent utilisation of Havertz has brought about an upsurge in form. The German enigma has been one of the club's standout performers since the November international break, and the return of Gabriel Jesus has been key to his improved run.

How Gabriel Jesus is getting the best out of Kai Havertz

Kai Havertz
Havertz is starting to fire in an Arsenal shirt / Julian Finney/GettyImages

Arsenal's emphatic 6-0 victory over RC Lens which meant the club qualified for the Champions League knockouts as group winners was just the third time Havertz and Jesus had started together.

And while their relationship wasn't necessarily telepathic, the pair combined somewhat scruffily to set up the Gunners' comfortable win. It was Jesus who won the header which led to Havertz's opener. The German then contributed to Arsenal's third by winning the second ball from a direct David Raya pass into Jesus.

This game illustrated how Arteta is trying to maximise Havertz's physical profile. The 3-2-5 structure from last season is dwindling, and we're seeing much more of a 4-2-4 with Havertz essentially working alongside Jesus. This allows Martin Odegaard to operate deeper in the build-up, and give Arsenal a direct option with Havertz and Jesus in the air.

While the Lens win teased the efficacy of this relationship, the dramatic 4-3 triumph over Luton Town showed how quickly Jesus and Havertz's partnership had blossomed. Once again, we saw more 4-2-4 with Odegaard working as deep as he ever has done for the club. The two up top faced a towering Luton back three, yet Arsenal weren't hesitant to go long. By the time the final whistle blew, the pair had won 12 aerial duels between them and 65 duels overall.

These were dogged and selfless performances that also garnered tangible reward. The influential Havertz, now crashing the box with the conviction as he once did, dragged away two defenders to allow Jesus to head home uncontested for Arsenal's second on the night.

Then, after Raya single-handedly allowed the hosts to take the lead, Jesus' crafty box movement and sharp work in tight spaces facilitated Havertz's third goal in as many starts. The German isn't scoring Goal of the Month contenders, but he's proved to be mightily efficient since the November break. His aerial presence and raumdeuter profile will continue to prove useful against stubborn blocks as the season progresses, and his relationship with Jesus should move into a state of telepathy should they continue to operate in close proximity.

After a rocky start to his Arsenal career, it now looks as if Kai Havertz has a defined role within Arteta's framework.