Mikel Arteta made a point of leading Kai Havertz over to the Arsenal support after he’d scored a late winner for the Gunners away to Brentford. The German midfielder has faced criticism since joining the North London club from Chelsea, but his header sent Arsenal top of the Premier League table. He deserved some acclaim.
Havertz isn’t entirely to blame for his early-season struggles. Arteta pushed for the £65m signing of the German, but didn’t have much of a plan for him when he arrived. Havertz was used as part of a midfield double pivot and has a central attacker without much success. Gradually, though, Havertz has found his role.
Introduced off the bench against Brentford with the match still goalless, Havertz was deployed on the right side of the Arsenal midfield. However, his primary role was as an agent of chaos. He was on the pitch to help create overloads in attacking areas and make late runs into the box – like the one he scored the winner from.
The £65m transfer fee paid by Arsenal for Havertz placed a level of expectation on the 24-year-old that possibly betrayed his purpose within the squad. Last season made clear how desperately the Gunners needed depth to compete for the Premier League title and Havertz provides that in a number of different positions.
In Martin Odegaard’s recent absence, Havertz came into the lineup to operate on the right side of the midfield three and did a decent job of deputising for the Norwegian creator. Havertz doesn’t have the same technical ability as Odegaard, but he maintained Arsenal’s general approach when otherwise they might have lost their identity as a team.
At other times, Havertz has operated on the left wing in Gabriel Martinelli’s absence. Havertz might not be part of Arsenal’s core group, but his contribution could make the difference for the Gunners over the course of the campaign. Saturday’s winner might not be the last time Havertz produces a big, important moment.
“If things came easy then he wouldn’t have got the reception he got today with everybody hugging him and telling him how much we love him,” Arteta said about Havertz after the win over Brentford. “It’s for a reason, it’s because of the way he behaves in difficult situations. He’s an example for all of us to do what you have to do when you have difficulties. It’s a great example for the team. We cannot be happier that a big player like him wins the game for the team.”
Arsenal have yet to find their best form this season and so it says a lot about how far they have come under Arteta that they have still been good enough to rise to the top of the Premier League table. The Gunners haven’t been as strong as they were last season, but their current pace could give them a better chance of clinching the title if they peak at the right time.
January will present Arsenal with another opportunity to strengthen their squad with speculation swirling that they could move for a new centre forward to provide competition to Gabriel Jesus. Ivan Toney and Dusan Vlahovic have been mentioned as potential targets, although neither would come cheap.
Havertz was Arsenal’s second-most expensive signing of the summer transfer window and it’s only now that he is proving to his critics why he was signed by the Gunners in the first place. As Arteta said in his praise of the German after his match-winning moment, he has set an example for other new additions to follow.