Kai Havertz to Arsenal – masterstroke or disaster?

One of the most intriguing and unexpected transfers so far this summer has no doubt been Kai Havertz joining Arsenal from Chelsea for £65 million.

Deemed surplus to requirements at last season’s 12th placed team, yet sought after by last season’s runners-up who spent 248 days leading the Premier League table. The question, then, is why? Why would Arsenal, upon qualifying for the Champions League for the first time since 2016 and now aspiring to win silverware regularly again, want a player who played a major role in Chelsea’s worst season for decades? It is certainly worth investigating.

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Journeying back to the summer of 2020, Kai Havertz can be seen gleefully holding a Chelsea shirt after signing from Bayer Leverkusen for £75 million. Havertz was very highly rated at the time after impressive displays as a sort of second striker for Leverkusen, and was widely expected to set the Premier League alight. His first season saw him produce a total of 17 goals and assists in 45 appearances across all competitions, with three coming in a 6-0 rout of Championship side Barnsley in the EFL Cup. Rather underwhelming for a £75 million signing, to put it mildly.

However, given the circumstances, which included many new signings along with Havertz struggling to be integrated into a Chelsea side that also saw Thomas Tuchel replace Frank Lampard midway through the season- as well as Havertz reportedly dealing with the effects of ‘long Covid’- his lacklustre debut season was largely put down to a difficult settling period. Of course, his great performances in the latter stages of the Champions League that season, including scoring the winning goal in the final against Manchester City, also earned him the chance to try again the next season in the eyes of many Chelsea fans.

Moving onto the 2021/22 season, it seemed as though the sky was the limit for Havertz. He had finished the previous season strongly and Thomas Tuchel’s Chelsea were expected by many to challenge for the Premier League title. Unfortunately for Havertz though, he again failed to justify his price tag. 20 goals and assists in 48 appearances seemed to be an alarmingly similar return to the previous season’s. Again, though, there was leverage for excuses. Tuchel rotated the squad frequently, meaning Havertz struggled to get a consistent run of games to gain momentum, and he would often be deployed in wide positions where he looked out of place.

Towards the back end of the season, Havertz was played more consistently in a false nine position, more closely reflecting his Leverkusen role where he has to this day played his best football, and Havertz’s performances and output improved drastically. With Romelu Lukaku’s expected departure, Havertz was expected to enter the next season as a regular starter in that position, and it felt as though now he would finally show his true class.

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Having produced two mediocre seasons at Chelsea, potentially for a variety of reasons, excuses were running out for Havertz entering the 2022/23 season. Now, he had to deliver. What he answered with was a pitiful 10 goals and assists in 48 appearances, half the previous season’s total. Moreover, this was also after two seasons to settle into the league, and he was playing in positions he is said to be best suited to- as a false nine of sorts, or playing behind a striker. Ultimately, after a disastrous season, Chelsea decided that they would listen to offers for Havertz; and were surely shocked when Arsenal agreed to pay a fee amounting to £65 million.

So, after analysing Havertz’s uninspiring tenure of Chelsea, it is time to discuss why Arsenal have paid such a large transfer sum for a player who has done little to demand it over the last three seasons. The theory that seems to be circling the most at the moment is that Mikel Arteta plans to use Havertz in a midfield role, replacing the departed Granit Xhaka. For people who have watched much of Havertz’s time in English football so far, this seems bizarre. He has not played in a role close to Xhaka’s since early in his first season at Chelsea, when Frank Lampard experimented with Havertz in a midfield three. He did not look at home in such a deep role and as such, he was not seen there again for Chelsea.

Despite his many shortcomings for the Blues, he has very occasionally shown flashes of world class ability, mostly in the Champions League. Performances against the likes of Borussia Dortmund last season, and against Real Madrid and Manchester City in his first season, suggest that there is a top player hiding behind a colossal wall of inconsistency. To his credit, he has also established something of a ‘big game player’ reputation at Chelsea due to such performances, and winning goals in the Champions League Final and the Club World Cup Final.

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Furthermore, those who have worked closely with Havertz have great belief in him. His former assistant manager Marcel Daum once said “I can’t say he will be the best German player ever, but he has the talent and there are no limits. He’s displaying signs of Zidane” when talking about him, which is high praise to say the least. His international teammate Joshua Kimmich said that “with the ball he is able to do everything”. It is also important to remember that eyebrows were raised when Arsenal signed the likes of Aaron Ramsdale and Ben White, who have now become crucial players in a team that showed real promise of winning the Premier League last season. These players serve as two examples as to how Mikel Arteta and Edu appear to be very good at identifying the qualities of the players that they recruit, even when such qualities seem virtually imperceptible to us football fans.

In summary, while much of the evidence points to Havertz not nearly being worth the £65 million Arsenal have paid for him, he still retains many of his supporters from those that have worked with him, and Arsenal’s impressive record in recruitment over the last few years suggests that they may just see something in Havertz that the rest of the football world is yet to see. Ultimately, time will tell, and it seems as though there will be little middle ground between this transfer being a stroke of genius, or a total disaster.

The Author

Joseph Bluemel

University student and aspiring football journalist.

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