At first glance, it was a freebie. Already up two goals against a a clearly overmatched Bournemouth, Kai Havertz stepped up to the spot. There was no pressure. At the same time, there was immense pressure. The outcome was already decided. Saka and Ødegaard had already seen to that. Awarded a second penalty as if we were playing at the Stretford End, Havertz had nothing and everything to weigh. Score, and that duck is broken. Scuff, and that career? Well, let’s just leave off. He converted.
Havertz is a still a riddle wrapped inside an enigma surrounded by a conundrum. Arteta has completely revamped the midfield, bidding a fond farewell to Xhaka, pondering what to do with Partey, and bedding Rice in. Twixt it all, Havertz has had to overcome all sorts of existential angst, adjusting not just to a new squad or a new role but also to an ever-changing cast of characters. Ahead of him, there’s been Martinelli, Trossard, and Jesus on the left. More centrally, there’s been Trossard (again), Jesus (again), and Nketiah. That’s quite a lot of adjusting and adapting for a player who’s done quite a lot of that already.
Havertz is verstatile in extremis. That’s both a blessing and a curse. At the sinking ship that is Chelsea, he was played all over the place under no less than six managers and alongside who knows how many teammates. That has got to boggle a young player’s mind, all the more so when he’s been saddled with comparisons to fellow Germans such as Özil, Ballack, Müller, and Kroos. That range suggests a blessing as well as a burden. Where, exactly, is Havertz meant to play?
Arteta seems to want him as an 8, a kind of box-to-box midfielder who arrives late into the box in order to catch defenders unawares or overwhelmed. We don’t offer much of an aerial threat from Martinellii, Jesus, or Saka, but Havertz at 1.9m (6’3″) can bring something different to the attack. Last season, of attacking players, only three players won more aerial duels than Havertz (79) in the Premier League last year (Tomáš Souček 114, Ivan Toney 109 and Aleksandar Mitrović 100). Havertz’s success rate of 57.2% was greater than all of them. He’s continued that at the Arsenal in defense and attack.
Those who would slate Havertz for failing to score are, as I’ve insisted previously, are guilty of ball-watching. Force yourself to watch Havertz instead of the ball. His movement off the ball is sublime. His awareness of spaces, channels, and gaps is unsurpassed. The timing of his runs is damn-near perfect. He’s still adjusting to this squad—but the squad is also adjusting to him. Once they find that chemistry, all bets are off.
As he settles into his role, and as others adjust to his role, we’re only going to see Havertz flourish. Those three years he spent at Chelsea—three wasted years during a crucial stage in his development—will soon fall away like Forrest Gump’s leg braces. Scoring from the spot against Bournemouth is hardly a career-defining moment by any means, but it should help Havertz shed the shackles and break free.
Lest you need any more convincing, look no further than the fact that Saka gave that penalty to Havertz. That speaks volumes. If Saka or Ødegaard harboured any doubts about Havertz, one of them would have stepped up to the spot. For them to give this chance to Havertz shows the faith that they and the entire squad feel. They train with Havertz every day. They see his commitment and his potential. If they’re willing to entrust him with that moment, well, then those of us who bang on against him on our keyboards might consider pausing for just a moment to consider the ramifications.
Back to the match, our away fans chanted deliriously to the tune of Shakira’s “Waka Waka:” Tsamina mina, eh, eh Waka waka, eh, eh, Sixty million down the drain, Kai Havertz scores again! While it might be just a touch too early to chant about him scoring “again” (even if he did score a few in the preseason), I do suspect that he’ll earn the full value of that chant sooner rather than later. RC Lens…Man City…