Kai Havertz deserves his flowers for role in Arsenal's win over Liverpool

  • Kai Havertz started in hybrid role against Liverpool with Gabriel Jesus out
  • Havertz had issues in front of goal
  • The German worked tirelessly amid an impressive performance
Kai Havertz proved a nuisance against Liverpool
Kai Havertz proved a nuisance against Liverpool / Marc Atkins/GettyImages

As Arsenal prepared for the storm that awaited on Sunday afternoon, online Gooners were engaged in a bitter feud regarding the status of Gabriel Jesus.

The seed had been planted in the lead up to matchday, with Mikel Arteta noting the "fluid" that had built up around his knee which forced some discomforting heading into and throughout the Nottingham Forest win.

Jesus played through the pain and inspired the Gunners to three points, but it came at a cost. Despite joining the team on their pre-match walk ahead of Liverpool's visit, he wasn't included in the matchday squad.

With several ITKs vindicated, returning to their timelines like Jordan Belfort once the team news was released, many questioned how Arteta would go about mitigating Jesus' absence. The Spaniard opted for Kai Havertz, with the German performing a role similar to the one he played in the FA Cup defeat to Jurgen Klopp's side in January.

Kai Havertz deserves his flowers for role in Arsenal's win over Liverpool

Kai Havertz, Virgil van Dijk
Havertz dishevelled Liverpool's impressive centre-back duo / Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/GettyImages

Havertz's debut season in north London was brought to life by his last-gasp winner at Brentford in November. His campaign beforehand had previously endured a fate many feared when Arsenal splurged £65m to sign him from Chelsea in the summer.

Since that winning sequence in west London, though, the German has started to endear himself to a once dubious fanbase. Sure, he remains far from perfect and occasionally frustrating, but he's so often done what Arteta's asked of him. His function is not the prettiest, and he's evolved into a final third performer that contrasts drastically from his masterful raumdeuter days at Bayer Leverkusen.

Havertz isn't necessarily in the side to score goals or set up teammates, but to win duels, press with vigour, and shackle opposing defences. His profligacy in front of goal manifested early on against the Reds on Sunday - although his saved effort rebounded to Bukayo Saka, who made no mistake - and he spurned chances worth 1.0 xG throughout the game. Still, Havertz's showing was about the nitty gritty.

The German lost the majority of his aerial duels - contesting a game-high ten - but he made four ball recoveries and was relentless without possession, collapsing in a heap when Anthony Taylor blew the full-time whistle. His effort didn't go unnoticed, nor did the tactical issues his role gave the visitors. When he wasn't rustling the feathers of Liverpool's back two, Havertz dropped into a withdrawn position - essentially operating as a dual #10 alongside Martin Odegaard. With two Liverpool midfielders man-marking Declan Rice and Jorginho, Alexis Mac Allister was left on an island against Odegaard and Havertz with Liverpool's centre-backs reluctant to follow the German (due to the space it could've afforded to Gabriel Martinelli).

His movement played a key role in the Gunners' opener as the hosts manipulated their superb visitors from back to front.

As I noted, it didn't quite fall for Havertz in the final third and this was far from an imperious showing, but it manifested the German's worth, especially on the big occasion. He also drew two fouls which resulted in Ibrahima Konate's dismissal.

Whether you believe what Havertz offers is worth £65m and a salary which is reportedly the highest at the club is another story, but at least the former Chelsea man has a function in this title-hunting Arsenal squad.