It was the best of times; it was the worst of times. Two signings—Declan Rice and Kai Havertz—have had introductions about as opposite as one can imagine. Rice, the Prem-proven talisman, has promptly picked up right where he left off with West Ham, Fresh off of winning whatever the European Conference League trophy is, Rice has slotted in seamlessly, turning in four confident performances capped off with a dramatic late winner against Man U just before the international break. Havertz’s transition has been—how do I put this delicately?–somewhat more of a muddle. For as much as a romp as it would be to revel in Rice’s exploits, let’s not be afraid to get our hands dirty with a closer look at Havertz.
That transfer fee. The “Chelsea reject”. The flop. Havertz has come into an ambitious Arsenal side determined to go one better than bottling the Prem last season. As such, each new signing has to step up and deliver. We’ve seen it from Rice. We’d seen it from Timber. We may yet see it from Raya. Havertz, however, hasn’t taken his chances and, instead, seems to be struggling with that three-part burden. It’s not that £62m is in and of itself a monstrous fee. It’s large, to be sure, and we have to feel like we did Chelsea a favour given their ridiculous spending and possible violation of FFP, as if that were a real thing that exists. That fee, like our own history of taking in Chelsea’s rejects, from Jorginho to Willian to Luiz to Čech, has saddled Havertz with a burden that is perhaps unfair. It’s not his fault that we’ve a history of disappointing transfers from the wrong side of London to the right, but it does feel like he has to break his duck and fast if he’s to shake the “flop” label.
There is good news to be had even if it isn’t quite as satisfying as seeing him actually make contact with the ball for a gilt-edged chance in the thirteenth minute. Havertz is second only to Saka for key passes per 90. He’s making intelligent runs into space, offering support to teammates with the ball, getting between the lines, and finding positions from which to score. Of course, the fact that he hasn’t scored is what stands out to most fans, but do him a favour. The next time he plays (which will probably be against Everton on Sunday, don’t watch the ball. Watch Havertz. Is he lolly-gagging à la Özil, or is he finding those spaces from which he can create chances for others or perhaps score? I’d wager that it’ll be the latter.
Let’s step back and consider the fact that Havertz, while at Chelsea during three very formative years, played under no less than four managers—Lampard, Tuchel, Potter, Bruno, and Lampard (again). Maybe that’s five. With the Die Mannschaft, he’s had to endure the tumultuous tenure of Hansi Flick. Imagine or remember the confusion, frustration, and doubt you’d feel when a minor change occurs where you work—maybe there’s a new sign-in procedure or different way to request a sick-day. Maybe there’s a new cover sheet to put on the TPS reports. You get my point. Havertz has been on an odyssey that Odysseus himself might respect. Ever-changing managers, ever-changing tactics, ever-changing positions…is it any wonder that this one-time wunderkid looks like a baby giraffe on roller skates?
Back to the present: Havertz has been playing for the most part behind Martinelli and Nketiah because of Jesus’s injury. Martinelli has been guilty of a little too much hero-ball to start the season, keeping the ball and looking to shoot rather than pass, and Nketiah has been similarly guilty of looking to score first. That’s understandable to a certain degree. However, given a chance to play behind Trossard and Jesus, two players who are both more-willing and more able to create for others, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Havertz score a goal or two.
I’m not here to say that Havertz is definitely worth what we paid. All I’m saying is that, after four matches, it’s far too early to label him a flop. The flip-side to that coin, I acknowledge, is that the positive take-aways I’ve offered come after just four matches. Hell, it took Dennis Bergkamp, an established world-class talent, a half-dozen matches to make a positive impression. Hold that thought—I’m not suggesting that Havertz will follow in Bergkamp’s footsteps. Depending on whom you ask, he is either the best or the second-best player to have ever played for this club. My point is this: if it took him six matches to break through, it might take Havertz just as long if not longer.
He picked up a nifty assist for Germany against France, playing Sané through on goal. Sané, perhaps still recovering from being pocketed by Tomiyasu a few days prior, finished the chance that Havertz created. It’s hardly a stoppage-time winner against Man U, but it may just give Havertz the confidence he needs to go into Goodison Park and score that first goal. From there, the floodgates shall open.