There was a time when Arsenal spent over £60 million on a player and could have fans dancing in the streets of North London.
Former chief executive Ivan Gazidis hailed “an increase in our financial firepower”, saying it was 10 years since the club was finally ready for the biggest competition, after years of self-financing at the Emirates Stadium with the austerity of the transfer market. players and in September 2013, they signed Mesut Ozil for £42.4 million. No less than Real Madrid. Ozil was a true star on the world stage and the Gunners smashed their previous club-record purchase — £15m for Andrey Arshavin to leave fans salivating at the start of a new era.
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Transfer fees continued to rise around the world in the intervening decade and yet Arsenal have only paid more than that on eight occasions, four of which have come in the last two years.
Kai Havertz is the third-most expensive signing in Arsenal’s history. There is some dispute over the exact amount: sources close to the Gunners insist it is a fee rising to £65m, while those at Chelsea have suggested the deal could ultimately be worth £67.5m. Either way, it’s the kind of spending Arsenal fans crave and many still struggle to associate with the club’s owner, Kroenke Sports Enterprises, which oversaw years of modest investment before strongly backing Michael Arteta as head coach.
Yet Havertz’s arrival has garnered nothing like the level of excitement commensurate with its price tag. Perhaps it got a bit lost in the slipstream of big deals this summer: the acquisition of midfielder Declan Rice from West Ham for a fee that could reach £105m.
With Bayern Munich, Manchester United, Chelsea and Manchester City all expressing interest, Rice’s signing appeared to be a major coup. In the end, only Bayern and City made a concerted effort to sign the England international, but it was a reflection of Arsenal’s poor health that they could complete a deal that made him the second-most expensive player in Premier League history.
There was no such competition for Havertz, whose time in England has been a frustrating wait for potential ignition since arriving at Stamford Bridge from Bayer Leverkusen for a £71m fee in 2020.
The apotheosis of his Chelsea career – the winning goal in the 2021 Champions League final – was a revelation for a versatile forward whose wanton finishing prompted growing unrest, particularly as the Blues collectively failed under Graham Potter and then Frank Lampard. There was no outcry at Stamford Bridge when he left. And if anything, his tongue-in-cheek, unassuming style — not entirely dissimilar to Ozil’s, it must be said — has followed him across the capital where, just three matches into the new Premier League season, Arteta faces questions. Reactions to Havertz’s performance were mixed.
“It was difficult at certain moments today,” Arteta said after last weekend’s 2-2 draw against Fulham. “He got in great areas and the ball didn’t come. In a lot of situations, he should have scored a lot of goals already this season. That’s what’s missing there.”
The numbers don’t fully back that up. In Havertz’s three league games so far, he has taken a total of four shots, none on target. His expected goals (xG) number was 0.35.
Granit Xhaka probably thought his complicated relationship with Arsenal fans had settled into a final resting place following his summer move to Bayer Leverkusen. Yet the man who told his own supporters to “f— off” at the nadir of his seven-year stay at the club, only to begin an unlikely latter-day redemption story, has had his stock boosted by Havertz’s slow start.
It is, however, extremely reactive. As Arteta’s Arsenal grew together, Xhaka adjusted from a deep-lying midfielder to a more attacking role, inviting the Switzerland international to embrace the more creative side of his game. Havertz served mainly as a no. 10, as a striker or wide player. He is now being asked to play as a no. 8 in a 4-3-3 shape that has teething problems all over the pitch.
Arsenal may be unbeaten — and were three minutes away from taking a maximum of nine points before Fulham equalized — but they haven’t looked convincing in any match so far.
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While it should be noted that an important part of Havertz’s game is the way he presses without the ball, part of the problem may be finding ways to get him more involved in it. On the opening weekend, Arsenal beat Nottingham Forest 2-1 with 78% possession and Havertz 69 touches. Thomas Partey (116) and Rice (105) were more involved in creating the attack but still the more advanced players – Bukayo Saka (84) and Martin Odegaard (83) – were more influential.
In a 1-0 win over Crystal Palace, Havertz had 41 touches — the fewest of any Arsenal outfield player except for striker Eddie Nketiah, who was substituted on 79 minutes. And against Fulham, Havertz had 22 touches in the first half, again the fewest of any Arsenal outfield player. Compare that to Rice (50), Saka (50), Martinelli (36), Odegaard (36) and Leandro Trossard (26).
The crowd roared with a defensive pass in front of him early in the second half, and Havertz was substituted 11 minutes into the second half. For context, Xhaka managed 54 touches per game in his 37 appearances last season, although not all of them came in that more advanced midfield role.
Havertz clearly has great individual talent but his signing was taken on faith by many, especially given Arteta’s proven ability to develop players through his coaching. It would be unreasonable to think this isn’t still a distinct possibility, especially given Arsenal’s collective problems implementing Arteta’s revised gameplan.
Sources told ESPN that Havertz was frustrated by the lack of clarity in what Chelsea’s players were being asked to do last season and the chance to work with someone as laser-focused as Arteta’s clear appeal.
Sunday’s visit to Manchester United would be an ideal time for Havertz to make his most telling contribution yet. Then Arsenal fans will have something to shout about.