In Defense of Granit Xhaka’s Replacement, Kai Havertz

Mikel Arteta offers strange advice to struggling Kai Havertz

In all honesty, I had very mixed emotions when Arsenal announced their first signing of the season, Kai Havertz, which cost the club £65m from Chelsea. I am not an avid follower of the German Bundesliga, so I didn’t follow his performances at Bayer Leverkusen. At such a young age, he advanced to be such an influential figure for the German outfit, scoring 46 goals in 150 games for the club. In his time at Bayer Leverkusen, Havertz featured mostly as an attacking midfielder and a second striker, but he played a couple of games as a center forward.

Havertz joined Chelsea in September 2020 with huge fanfare, costing the club a whopping £72m, making him their second most expensive signing after Kepa Arrizabalaga. Following the recent acquisitions of Moises Caicedo, Enzo Fernandez and Romelu Lukaku, Havertz dropped in the most expensive signings ranking from second to fifth.

Kai Havertz spent three full seasons at Chelsea, winning the 2020/21 Champions League, 2021 Club World Cup and 2021 UEFA Super Cup, scoring the match winning goals in the Champions League and Club World Cup finals. He also came close in the 2020/21 FA Cup, that saw Chelsea lose to Leicester City, as well as 2021/22 FA Cup and Carabao Cup finals, which were both defeats against Liverpool. 

However, Havertz’s performances at Chelsea weren’t as scintillating as his outings with Bayer Leverkusen, especially with the fact that he was deployed as a center forward, following Lukaku’s shenanigans. The attacking returns didn’t come on a consistent basis as well, with Havertz scoring nine, 14 and nine goals in his three seasons at Chelsea. He looked bereft of confidence and failed to impose himself in the team. 

When he crossed over from South West London to North London, I weighed in the pros and cons of signing him, highlighting his versatility, replacement for Granit Xhaka, age profile, good injury record and Premier League experience as the pros, with his form and underwhelming performances at Chelsea as the cons.

Many fans, including me, weren’t fully convinced of what to expect from him, especially with Mikel Arteta earmarking him as the replacement for Xhaka, but we needed to watch him consistently to give a profound assessment of his performances. He made his unofficial debut in the 1-1 draw with Nurnberg playing 44 minutes and his second game for the Gunners was a better one, with the German schemer scoring a goal in the 5-0 thrashing of the MLS All Stars. Havertz scored a goal in his third preseason game in that enthralling 5-3 win against Barcelona, then he garnered 28 minutes in the Emirates Cup clash against Monaco.

Preseason was over and it was time for the competitive football. Havertz featured as the left 8 throughout and whilst fans weren’t fully convinced of whether he can do a job there, his defensive output was encouraging. When the Community Shield rolled into town, Havertz played as the center forward, with Gabriel Jesus suffering a knee niggle that required a surgical procedure. He had two shots in the game against Manchester City and missed a big chance and was eventually substituted in the 87th minute.

Havertz made his Premier League debut in the narrow win over Nottingham Forest, playing in the left 8 position, featuring in several tactical positions to support the team, but lacked cutting edge when required. When Arsenal visited Selhurst Park, Havertz played in the left 8 position as well and had one shot that whistled past the post with Sam Johnstone rooted to the spot, but Takehiro Tomiyasu’s red card made Arteta revert to Satanball and Havertz full defensive capabilities came into play, as he won lots of duels, made recoveries, a couple of blocks and even interceptions, playing several positions on the same night. 

Next up was Fulham at home and Havertz’s performance on the day wasn’t good. After playing 90 minutes in the first two Premier League games, he was yanked off in the 56th minute for Fabio Vieira, who went on to have a stormer, winning a penalty for his team and providing a sumptuous assist for Eddie Nketiah. The vitriol and pitchforks came out in full effect for Havertz, making his manager to come out in his defense in his pre-Manchester United press conference,

“I tell you what I feel about him, that I love him, that I see his qualities every single day in training. His work rate is excellent, a lot of the things that he’s done for the team is so good.

“The visual one, the one with the stats at the moment is what is missing to put the ball in the net and to arrive on those zones and have a different impact in the game, but for the rest is that.

“It’s difficult to ask, especially our people in our stadium and our supporters for more, but my feeling is, give him love and we will get the best out of him.

“I think we have some very, very, very beautiful examples in the last few years with players that we have given a lot of support and be behind them and give them love and they have felt that and they just have exploded. A lot of good examples.

“So I will stick to that because not everybody is going to be willing for Arsenal to do well. But the ones that really by heart and soul, they really want the best for the club, let’s do it because there is a lot there to give us.”

This strong encouraging words from the manager ultimately meant that Havertz was certainly going to start against Manchester United. On the match itself, Havertz had a glorious chance early to score his first Arsenal goal and he fluffed his chance, and to culminate his misery, it was Havertz misplaced pass to Martin Odegaard that was anticipated by Christian Eriksen, which eventually led to the goal Arsenal conceded.

Prior to his 77th minute substitution for Fabio Vieira, Havertz had an 88 percent pass completion percentage, one chance created, two shots, 0.35 xG, 34 touches, two tackles, one block, two clearances, five recoveries and three ground duels won, which was another all round performance for the German. These are the kind of numbers you’d expect from your left 8. 

“I do think that because so many people are focused on the lack of output, they missed why Kai Havertz started – he was tactically the right option. He has very strong defensive abilities, he occupies defenders, he has very strong pressing abilities, and he gives you strength in the air. Not many people have noted that a lot of the problems we’ve had so far this season have come down the right. Kai Havertz is doing a good job securing the left. We’re missing a lot of the nearly moments as well and far too many people see those misses as forever stains on his career, vs the early greenshoots of a player who is going to give us more final action output than Granit Xhaka.” –  Le Grove.

Havertz came to this team to play in Granit Xhaka’s position, and right now, he’s doing his bit to match up those defensive numbers that Xhaka put up alongside Thomas Partey last season. In addition to great defensive numbers, Xhaka scored seven goals and created seven assists in 37 Premier League games. Havertz has played only four Premier League games and the fans want his head on a spike.

Arsenal has had great protection on the left hand side, with a considerable chunk of the goals conceded coming from Bukayo Saka and Ben White’s flank.

Antony Elanga had all the time in the world before picking a pass to Taiwo Awoniyi from Arsenal’s right hand side. Saka played a terrible pass to Andreas Pereira from Arsenal’s right hand side. Marcus Rashford received a pass from Eriksen on Arsenal’s right hand side, took on White and Saliba before scoring. The only goal conceded that didn’t come from Arsenal’s right hand side was Joao Palhinha’s goal from a corner in the box. Odegaard and Saka are the influencers on Arsenal’s attacking third on the right, but their defensive output is very poor. Havertz, on the other hand, has been engaging opposition players on the left and wins almost all his duels.

Like the rest of the first team squad, Havertz has been called up for international duty and hopefully will return to North London unscathed.

Let’s get behind our Xhaka replacement and give him the required support he needs to thrive as he beds in to a new role he was assigned by a manager that absolutely trusts him.

It’s high time the fans trust him too.


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About enigma106

An Arsenal fan with a good sense of humor

Posted on September 7, 2023, in Arsenal, Football, Premier League and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Thanks for this. One of the few sensible things I’ve seen written about Havertz. Some people in the media have poisoned a lot of gooners into making Havertz a scapegoat for our failings. 1. We’re doing well. 2. As a team. 3 He’s an important part of that team. 4. He’s learning a new position. He just needs to settle down and score and regain confidence in front of goal. It was the same with Jesus for a while. He needs our support.

  2. Honestly speaking this is good stuff about Havertz other than the manager no one has said stuffs like this. I must confess the media and analysts have posion me too about this guy.
    Honestly he was no signed to score goals but at times when opportunities arise he is expected to take them, as it stands he needs to get his goal scoring groves back – confidence.
    Who else but we the fans are the one to help rally behind him 4 support.

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