Mikel Arteta’s repertoire of pre-match motivational team talks underscores his reputation as a lateral thinker – and competent artist.
Arsenal’s manager stepped outside the box to come up with a clunky metaphor for Kai Havertz’s route to success at Arsenal. “I said to him yesterday: ‘When I met my wife, at the beginning it was hard to conquer her,'” Arteta revealed, still riding high on the wave of adrenaline after a last-gasp victory over Manchester United.
“I had to try and message, and go and go, and at the end when she said: ‘Yes, we will be together,’ it’s beautiful. If she had said ‘yes’ on the first day, it’s not that great.”
After four Premier League matches, devoid of a goal, assist or eye-catching performance, Havertz still has a long way to go to win over the vast majority of Arsenal’s fanbase.
Building upon Arteta’s call for “persistence” and “determination”, here’s how Havertz can work out at Arsenal.
Havertz insists he is “relatively relaxed” about his “bumpy” start to life in north London but he could do with translating that ease onto the pitch.
In comfortably the worst performance of his embryonic Arsenal career, Havertz appeared bereft of confidence in a damning display against Manchester United. After a desperately limp stab squandered a gaping sight of goal with his latest fluffed shot, it’s surprising that Havertz hasn’t yet been lumbered with the timeless nickname Jigsaw – few go to pieces in the box as often as the German.
It was Havertz’s flaccid pass which Christian Eriksen intercepted to set Marcus Rashford away for the opener and the penalty that he dived to win was rightly overturned by the VAR.
A year ago, Havertz said: “I want to come into the position where I have the confidence to go into a game and think: ‘Yeah today you’re going to score.'” He is still waiting.
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Arsenal’s highest-paid player is still very much in the process of getting to know his new teammates. When Bukayo Saka bent the ball into the bottom corner for Arsenal’s second goal of the Premier League season, Havertz had his hands on his head in unadulterated shock – watching players on TV or coming up against them once or twice a season is very different from sharing a pitch week in, week out.
Yet, the players Havertz has lined up alongside have constantly been altered. The German has played in front of four different left-backs in as many Premier League matches.
Aaron Ramsdale was quick to point out the discrepancy in chemistry between Arsenal’s two attacking flanks after the victory over United. “The right side – Ben White, Martin Odegaard and Bukayo Saka – have been playing together forever,” the goalkeeper explained. “The left – Oleksandr Zinchenko, Kai Havertz, Gabriel Martinelli? Once. It takes time to build those connections.”
The whispy German prefers to “sneak around” opposition centre-backs but he appears to have also evaded the eyeline of his new teammates this season.
“I think he’s already done really good things,” Arteta said of Havertz after Arsenal’s 2-2 draw with Fulham. “Today it was tough in certain moments. He got in great areas and the ball didn’t arrive. In a lot of situations, he should have scored a lot of goals already this season. That’s the thing that is missing.”
Only Erling Haaland made more off-ball runs into the opposition penalty area than Havertz in the Premier League last season (per Opta). That capacity to penetrate the box is a key component of the role Havertz has inherited from Granit Xhaka. Six of the seven Premier League goals the Swiss midfielder scored last season came from 12 yards out or closer. Havertz can make the runs, but he has to be found.
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