A £62m transfer fee. £330k in weekly wages. 178 minutes. No goals. No assists. While it may be too early to label Havertz a flop, pertinent questions are bubbling up. Just what did Arteta see in this fully-formed 24 year old who has obviously peaked already and who benefitted tremendously from the completely stable and nourishing environs he encountered upon his arrival at Stamford Bridge? It’s clearly not an AFTV-level overreaction to label Havertz The Worst Signing EverTM. Chelsea fleeced us. Again.
Okay, so I have to admit that this was all a bit of a wind-up. Think of me as a carnival barker or a newsie tossing off sensationalised, hyperbolic headlines to draw you in. I hope to appease you with something resembling actual insight now that you’re here. Assuming that you’ve read this far, let’s treat the headline and lede as water under a bridge and get down to brass tacks: Havertz has actually been quite good. Worth what we paid and will be paying? That’s another question.
Against City in the Community Shield, he went on as a #9/CF and didn’t really impress. He was well-nigh anonymous, taking just two shots (both on target, it’s worth noting) and being credited with just three touches, according to whoscored. Whether that reflects a lack of quality on his part of a lack of possession on the squad’s depends on your own peccadilloes, preferences, and prior notions. Against Forest on Saturday, he was somewhat more influential (which is to be expected given the gap from Forest to City). Thrust into the somewhat-unfamiliar #9/CF role, Havertz was nonetheless influential even if a bit tentative. Presented with numerous chances at having a go, he opted instead for the safer option—probably the result of dealing with pressures after his move to Chelsea and then this one to Arsenal. Playing it safe makes sense—but scoring a goal will offer immeasurable succour. The goals will come, then flow.
This is a lad growing into his role, re-discovering himself, and plumbing the depths of his potential. As it currently stands, yes, he languishes somewhere among the Chamakhs, Bendtners, and Gervhinos of recent history. Time will tell whether he can establish himself among higher echelons. He’s passable as a #9, but he may be better as an #8 from which he could very well earn himself a place as more of an 8-ish, box-to-box midfielder, reminiscent of Ramsey or Rosický in their pomp. He’s bigger and capable of better hold-up play and physicality than either of them or Xhaka or Partey.
One easy-to-overlook element that he brings is that physicality in defending corners. According to Opta Analyst, “Havertz was the best attacking player in the Premier League in 2022-23 [when it came to defending an opponent’s corner]. His 23 first contacts at defensive corners was the fourth most in the whole top flight in 2022-23, behind only Brentford centre-back Ethan Pinnock (34), Aston Villa centre-back Tyrone Mings (26) and goalkeeper Emiliano Martínez (24), and made up 12.6% of Chelsea’s total.” There will be those who insist that we should see Havertz scoring goals on an almost Haalandian level, given that we spent more to sign him (it must be added, though, that Haaland’s weekly wages are reportedly three times more than Havertz’s).
Long story short, it’s clearly too early to arrive at any kind of meaningful verdict here. This may come as cold comfort, but even if Havertz doesn’t ever fulfill his potential, he’ll always have Nicolas Pépé to claim the dubious prize of having been our worst-signing ever. If Arteta can bring out the best in Havertz, as he’s done with Saka, Martinelli, Saliba, Magalhães, Ødegaard, and White, among others, we’ll have a steal on our hands, and it’ll be Chelsea who’ll be feeling fleeced by Arsenal.