At Chelsea, Kai Havertz had different tasks and roles. City rivals Arsenal see this versatility as an opportunity, which is why the Gunners would like to sign the German international.
The list of Chelsea’s big and expensive signings over the past two decades is endless. But few players caused as much anticipation as Kai Havertz in 2020 when he was transferred from Bayer Leverkusen to London. At that time, the Blues prevailed in poker against Real Madrid and FC Bayern to get the offensive player for 80 million euros.
“Havertz is the next big player Germany will produce,” said his former Leverkusen team-mate Roberto Hilbert in an interview at the time SPOX and GOALS. “He has some traits that Michael Ballack had, some traits that Mesut Özil had, but he puts those traits of the two together in a package of his own that makes him so dangerous. I think he has a level of talent that no other player has .”
Still, it wasn’t immediately clear how then-coach Frank Lampard would involve Havertz. “I’ve liked him as a player for a long time. His style is very unique,” he said. Only five months later, however, a new coach came: Thomas Tuchel.
The Blues increased under the ex-Dortmunder and Mainzer – and even won the Champions League. Havertz scored the decisive goal in the final against Manchester City.
It was undoubtedly the absolute highlight of his time at Stamford Bridge. Now he is expected to leave Chelsea after scoring 32 goals in 139 appearances.
Lampard, Tuchel and Graham Potter all failed to get the best out of Havertz, who struggled for consistency and goals in different formations and systems. But Mikel Arteta believes he can do better.
So how and where exactly could Havertz fit in at Arsenal? An analysis.
Kai Havertz: The German “hybrid” car
At the beginning, Tuchel described his compatriot as follows: “He feels very comfortable in high positions, he is very good at attacking headers, he has good timing when he enters the penalty area, a good finish, is calm in the penalty area.”
However, he added a caveat: “Does he always have to play in the same position? Or is he hybrid?” Two years later, we still don’t have a definitive answer to that question.
Part forward, part attacking midfielder, Havertz’s impressive ability with both feet on either side and in the middle gives him the power to play. As a result, he was rarely absent from Chelsea’s starting line-up – despite his poor goal tally.
The 2022/23 season was extremely disappointing for the former Leverkusen midfielder, averaging just 0.23 goals per game and missing 14 of the 18 big chances he had in the Premier League. Havertz was often used as number 9 and appeared isolated – no one from the Chelsea team seemed to provide him with good assists.
It was certainly no coincidence that Chelsea recorded their worst-ever PL goal tally with just 38 goals in 38 games. But Havertz is still able to add a new dimension to Arsenal’s attack.
With Gabriel Jesus, Bukayo Saka and Gabriel Martinelli as well as the creative qualities of Martin Ødegaard and Granit Xhaka, the Gunners had no trouble scoring in their bid for the title last season. Arsenal have far greater penetrating power than Chelsea – Havertz will benefit from that.
Kai Havertz: Arsenal’s new Robin van Persie?
“He reminds me a bit of Robin van Persie at times with his back to goal, the way he can pin the ball,” Arsenal legend Thierry told Henry CBS Sports. “Van Persie had a very good left foot, his handling of the ball was impeccable and he wanted to pull everyone along.”
About Havertz’s best position, he said: “He’s one of those players who used to play 10s or on the wing, but now he’s playing as a 9. Because he can convert the ball very well with his back to the goal. He has to do that now converted into more goals.”
Tuchel also compared Havertz to van Persie during his time at Chelsea. Arsenal fans are naturally hoping he can emulate the Flying Dutchman, who has scored 132 goals in 278 games in north London. Van Persie started out as a traditional centre-forward until Arsène Wenger, with age, placed him in the ‘false nine’ position.
Van Persie was not only an outstanding goalscorer but also a great link-up player. For example, Arteta could place Havertz next to or in front of Gabriel Jesus.
Havertz has the necessary balance, skill and footballing intelligence to cause a lot of damage to the opponent. He acts between the defenses and lets his teammates shine. The striker will certainly work well as usual with Arteta’s pressing.
Is Kai Havertz a replacement for Granit Xhaka?
Ahead of his 2020 move to Chelsea, Havertz revealed in an interview with the Spanish newspaper mark his preferred position. “I would say as an 8th, inside right,” he said. “I’m not a classic number 10, but I like having the ball at my feet and just having fun on the pitch.”
Ødegaard is currently in that position for Arsenal and it’s not likely to change anytime soon. The Norwegian was one of the best players in the Premier League last season. Arteta even made him captain.
While Havertz may prefer the right touchline, he certainly wouldn’t mind playing on the left side of central midfield in Arteta’s 4-3-3 formation. He will have big shoes to fill as Granit Xhaka will leave after his best season in Arsenal shirt – ironically to Havertz’s youth club Leverkusen.
Of course, the German playmaker won’t offer Arsenal defensively as much as Xhaka. But he would be able to charge late into the penalty area and gain possession more often in the half-spaces. Havertz fired 54 shots from open play last season, more than any other Chelsea player.
His off-ball runs are also strong. Former Leverkusen coach Tayfun Korkut said in an interview with Sky Sports 2020: “He moves fantastically between the lines. He knows exactly where to stand. He sees the spaces to stand in. When the space closes starts, he goes into the next room. So he not only controls the ball, he also controls the room. That’s why he’s always in the right place.”
Havertz is agile, physically strong and a master technician – that also makes him suitable in central midfield. Arsenal are not paying 76 million euros for Havertz, who played at Chelsea for three years – but are investing in a player that Arteta can imagine in his system.
Kai Havertz: As a 10 or wing player
Arsenal legend Paul Merson had warned him against it. “Kai Havertz is a 10 to me. Not a centre-forward. I see him as a player like Dennis Bergkamp,” Merson wrote in his Daily Star column. “He doesn’t need the ball with his back to goal. He’s too good for that. He needs the ball with his head towards goal.” Merson was right – Chelsea struggled with Havertz.
But it’s certain the Gunners won’t make the same mistake as Chelsea did after luring Havertz away from their London rivals. He could prove to be the perfect match for Jesus – just as Bergkamp was for Henry in his heyday.
Havertz can make the difficult look just as effortless as Bergkamp once did: he has the same exceptional first contact, the same passing security and the same coolness in front of goal. Arteta might experiment with a new formation to put Havertz and Jesus on the field together – but it could be worth it.
A whirlwind of frenetic energy, Jesus would dizzy the defensive lines while Havertz delivers behind him.
But there is another possible role that Havertz could play. Saka was one of Arsenal’s best players in the 2022/23 season – but towards the end of the round he looked a bit overplayed. With Havertz, Arteta would have the opportunity to rest Saka in some games. The Germany international could be just as dangerous on the right wing as the Englishman.
The 24-year-old can pull in with his left foot just as well as with his right. He mostly makes the right decisions when he gets into the right spaces in the forward movement.
Kai Havertz: No pressure in big games
Havertz rightly has the reputation of a player who just delivers in big games. In the 2021 Champions League final against Manchester City (1-0), he showed nerves of steel and repeated the feat at the Club World Cup.
When Chelsea were awarded a penalty deep in extra time at the Club World Cup final against Palmeiras (Brazil) on February 12, 2022, Havertz took the ball. He confidently sank in the bottom left corner.
His performances and concentration under pressure in big games are impressive. But perhaps he needs to regain his lost confidence at Arsenal first.
“For me, the transfer was a big deal. I was the most expensive player in Chelsea’s history,” Havertz told the English Guardian in March. “It brings pressure because people think you’re Messi. You can feel it, the pressure.”
Havertz buckled under the weight of expectations last season and has to get back to more lightness. Currently, it seems unlikely that he will be one of the top 30 players in the world and nominated for the Ballon d’Or in the next few years.
But Arteta will have studied Havertz’s time at Chelsea closely and concluded he was worth betting on.
Only Tottenham’s Heung-min Son and Aston Villa star Ollie Watkins have made more offensive runs than Havertz in 2022/23. He also covered more distance than any of his Chelsea peers. Unfortunately, he was part of a side that was on the brink of relegation – but Arsenal will give him the chance to silence his critics once and for all.
Kai Havertz: A rough diamond
At the tender age of 24, Havertz has already experienced many ups and downs at the highest level. That will have made him stronger. Chelsea FC has now given him up before what could be his best phase. The Blues could ultimately regret that.
Arsenal won the contract, but Real Madrid and FC Bayern were also very interested. Havertz’s market value hasn’t dropped significantly – he remains a potential diamond to be polished.
Arteta counts on him and knows: The runner-up needs more header goals. In the past season, Havertz was the player with the fourth most header duels won – also thanks to his 1.90 meters.
He has headed three of his seven Premier League goals and only 11 players have headed more than he has.
Besides, he certainly knows what exactly he did wrong at Chelsea. A fresh start at Emirates Stadium is just what Havertz needs. Arsenal are getting a player who is still hungry and ready to prove himself – who will be determined to win more trophies. Few players Havertz’s age have his experience and skills.
It will be interesting to see how he fares in north London next season as Arsenal make another bid for the Premier League title. If Havertz finally fulfills his potential and Arteta finds his suitable position, the Gunners could really surprise everyone this time.