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Kai Havertz: The Journey from Chelsea Misfit to Arsenal’s Big Game Man

Tsamina mina, eh, eh, waka waka, eh, eh, 60 million down the drain, Kai Havertz scores again.” In recent months, Arsenal supporters have grown accustomed to proving us wrong.

Their most recent chance to belt out a rather infectious chant arrived on April 24th against Chelsea, as Kai Havertz scored twice, leading to a 5-0 defeat for the Blues. This marked Arsenal’s largest-ever win against Chelsea in all competitions.

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Soccer Football – Premier League – Arsenal v Chelsea – Emirates Stadium, London, Britain – April 23, 2024 Arsenal’s Kai Havertz celebrates scoring their third goal Action Images via Reuters/Matthew Childs

It marked yet another impressive display from Havertz, gradually affirming Arsenal’s bold investment in him last summer.

His recent performances, fueled by a burgeoning confidence, are significant, especially as they unfolded against his former team, Chelsea, symbolizing his career resurgence.

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  1. How many goals has Kai Havertz scored for Chelsea?

    32 from 139 appearances.

Read More: Bayern Munich Fans Don’t Want Rangnick: Appeals Club To Keep Thomas Tuchel Next Season

Kai Havertz’s Arsenal Odyssey: From Ambiguity to Ascendancy

During his three-year tenure at Stamford Bridge, assessing Havertz’s legacy was challenging. Departing with 32 goals and 12 assists from 139 appearances, he had notable achievements, including decisive goals in the 2021 Champions League final and 2022 Club World Cup final.

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However, despite these milestones, there lingered a feeling that he hadn’t reached his full potential, considering his promising spell at Bayer Leverkusen.

Arsenal’s decision to acquire him raised eyebrows, primarily due to the hefty price tag; the German international commanded a fee exceeding £65 million. (“£65 million down the drain” presumably doesn’t fit the song’s syllable count.)

Additionally, there was a puzzling aspect regarding his suitability. As it was highlighted previously: “One of the most perplexing aspects of the transfer is the uncertainty surrounding Havertz’s optimal position. His role isn’t clearly defined. Is he a striker, similar to how Chelsea utilized him during his tenure in west London? Or does he thrive more as an attacking midfielder, a position where he excelled in Germany?”

Interestingly, it appeared that neither of these roles was the intended fit, with Arsenal and Arteta envisioning him filling the void left by Granit Xhaka on the left side of midfield.

Contrary to the chants heard from Arsenal supporters today, the beginning of Havertz’s tenure in north London was far from seamless.

Initially positioned as the left-sided midfielder in a trio, Havertz faced challenges in the early stages of the season. While he brought valuable off-the-ball attributes to Arsenal, such as his ability to press from midfield and his imposing 6-foot-4 stature, his on-the-ball performances appeared hesitant and uncertain. His role within the team seemed ambiguous, inviting criticism from rival fans who were quick to label the £65 million signing as a disappointment.

Arsenals Team Stats When Havertz Plays in Midfield or Up Front Image Credits Opta Analyst Kai Havertz: The Journey from Chelsea Misfit to Arsenal's Big Game Man
Arsenal’s Team Stats When Havertz Plays in Midfield or Up Front, Image Credits- Opta Analyst

During his first 12 Premier League outings for the club, he managed just one goal, a penalty in a 4-0 victory over Bournemouth that felt more like a gesture of support from his teammates to boost his morale. This goal ended a streak of 20 league appearances without finding the net, highlighting the struggle to find positive aspects in his performances.

Arsenal sought Havertz’s versatility when they signed him, yet it seemed this very flexibility hindered him, reminiscent of his time at Chelsea.

However, his late-game heroics against Brentford in November hinted at a turning point. Coming off the bench as a substitute, he snuck in behind the defense to head home an 89th-minute winner in a challenging away fixture. It felt like his inaugural significant contribution to the club, signaling the potential he possessed. Subsequently, he added two more vital goals in victories over Luton and Brighton in December.

At that juncture, Havertz continued to operate in midfield. Ironically, his recent exceptional form has blossomed in a role he wasn’t initially intended to fulfill.

A knee injury to Gabriel Jesus in early February prompted Havertz’s transition to the forward line. It’s in this position that he has excelled.

Since the beginning of February, only Cole Palmer (16) and Ollie Watkins (13) have contributed to more Premier League goals than Havertz’s 11 (seven goals, four assists). Remarkably, these 11 goal involvements have occurred in his last 10 Premier League outings.

Havertz’s Impact at Arsenal: Redefining Expectations and Positional Dynamics

In his 33 league appearances for Arsenal, Havertz has contributed 11 goals and five assists. While these figures may not be staggering, they are indeed commendable, especially considering that he has spent 70% of his playing time in midfield. Despite Arsenal’s reputation for distributed goal-scoring, only Bukayo Saka (23) has been involved in more goals for Arteta’s side this season.

Kai Havertzs Goal Involvements for Arsenal in the 2023 24 Season Image Credits Opta Analyst Kai Havertz: The Journey from Chelsea Misfit to Arsenal's Big Game Man
Kai Havertz’s Goal Involvements for Arsenal in the 2023-24 Season, Image Credits- Opta Analyst

The Gunners have appeared significantly more menacing with Havertz leading the attack compared to Gabriel Jesus. The Brazilian has struggled once again in front of goal this season, managing just four Premier League goals. These goals have come from an expected goals (xG) tally of 6.3, highlighting ongoing issues with finishing. Jesus’ underperformance of 2.3 is the most significant among any Arsenal player this season.

Analyzing Arsenal’s team statistics with Havertz deployed as a midfielder versus as a forward reveals a higher level of efficiency in attack when he operates as a striker.

Admittedly, this analysis is based on a relatively limited sample size, as Havertz has started just eight games as a forward. Furthermore, the data points are inevitably influenced by the form of his teammates. Nonetheless, these observations support the argument that Arsenal pose a greater threat with Havertz leading the line.

When we focus on the minutes that both Jesus and Havertz have spent as Arsenal’s primary striker, a direct comparison of their performance emerges.

The data suggests that although Havertz has fewer touches and shots per game, and tends to receive the ball in less threatening areas, he capitalizes more effectively on his opportunities. Despite his lower volume of touches and shots, he consistently directs more of his attempts on target and, importantly, converts a higher percentage of them into goals.

Moreover, Havertz’s contributions extend beyond goal-scoring. He matches Jesus in areas beyond the scoreline, such as creating scoring opportunities and initiating defensive actions in the final third. These facets of play are often highlighted as strengths of Jesus, used to mitigate his shortcomings in finishing.

Havertz vs Jesus Stats as a Striker Image Credits Opta Analyst Kai Havertz: The Journey from Chelsea Misfit to Arsenal's Big Game Man
Havertz vs Jesus Stats as a Striker, Image Credits- Opta Analyst

This comparison isn’t meant to diminish Jesus, who has faced his share of injuries this season. Rather, it underscores how Havertz has thrived as Arsenal’s primary forward—a role he struggled with at Chelsea—and how his improved form has bolstered Arsenal’s pursuit of the title.

It might be premature to label his transfer a “success” just yet. There are still instances where he appears awkward and uncertain in possession, particularly in the final third. However, we’re certainly moving away from considering him a “flop.”

While Arsenal may still be in the market for a striker this summer, potentially bringing in a marquee name, Havertz’s starting position could be at risk. Nonetheless, this shouldn’t worry the 24-year-old, whose footballing abilities and unique skill set are clearly valued by Arteta and Edu. They’ll find a way to integrate him into the team. Regardless of his position, Havertz is undoubtedly a different player when brimming with confidence, as evidenced by his recent performances.

Arsenal should capitalize on this momentum as the season draws to a close, riding Havertz’s wave of form for as long as possible.


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