clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Transfer Spotlight: Arsenal’s Kai Havertz

Can Arteta unleash the real Kai?

Arsenal Unveil New Signing
Formerly a Blue, Kai Havertz now wears an Arsenal shirt.
Photo by David Price/Arsenal FC via Getty Images

Generally considered a flop at Chelsea, it was perhaps surprising to see Kai Havertz linked to some of the biggest clubs in Europe, including Real Madrid, when rumors began to circulate that Chelsea was willing to let him go. Apparently Los Blancos seriously contemplated Havertz as a replacement for the outgoing Karim Benzema, but in the end it was Arsenal that eventually sealed the German international’s signature in a £65m deal.

Kai’s extreme versatility makes it almost impossible to authoritatively state the role he will play in Arsenal’s free-flowing side, but let’s take a look at likely scenarios and what he brings to the team.


Nicknamed ‘Alleskonner,’ which means ‘Jack of all trades, Havertz was born on the 11th of June 1999 to Jan Havertz and Leah Havertz. His father was a policeman, while his mother was a lawyer. The last born of the family’s children, Havertz has an older brother and an older sister.

Kai’s footballing ability can be traced back to his grandfather, a former football player, and his dad, who also played amateur football. Due to his parents’ busy work schedules, Kai’s grandfather spent a lot of time looking after him. Grandpa Richard gradually introduced football to Kai and began teaching him the basics of the game and sharing his passion for the sport.

At just four years old, Kai joined his local team Alemania Mariadorf, of which Kai’s grandfather was chairman. Kai played with older age groups due to his impressive abilities. In 2009 at the age of ten, Kai joined Alemannia Aachen, the biggest club in the region. Kai scored a hattrick in one of his games for Alemannia Aachen against Bayer Leverkusen U12s. This attracted the interest of Leverkusen’s coach, Slawomir Czarniecki, and within a year of his arrival Havertz moved on from Alemannia Aachen to Leverkusen.

At Leverkusen Havertz turned heads from his first day at the club, even at the tender age of 11. But although Kai was able to overcome almost every obstacle his opponents presented, he also had to contend with his rapidly changing body. As he passed through puberty he struggled to deal with legs that were growing too long too fast.

Nevertheless, the youngster helped Leverkusen win the German U17 title in 2016, scoring 18 goals in 26 games. Nine months later, Kai found himself playing in the Leverkusen first team alongside Julian Brandt as his strike partner. He made his debut as a substitute in a 2-1 loss to Werder Bremen in the Bundesliga. He scored his first senior goal for the club in a 3-3 thriller against VFL Wolfsburg, becoming Leverkusen’s youngest-ever Bundesliga goalscorer.

At 19, Kai helped Bayer Leverkusen secure a Champions League spot. The youngster ended the 2016-17 season with four goals and five assists in 24 appearances. The following season Kai enjoyed his best professional season yet; the youngster recorded 20 goals and three assists. His performance in that 2017-18 campaign attracted interest from several clubs, but Leverkusen managed to hold onto their prized asset for one more season before he ultimately moved to Chelsea. Kai scored 46 goals and 31 assists in 150 games during his time at Bayer Leverkusen.

Kai’s arrival at Stamford Bridge was met with much excitement as fans hoped he would be able to repeat his Leverkusen exploits at the London-based club. Unfortunately the German international’s first season didn’t go as planned, as the youngster only managed four goals and three assists in 27 league matches.

However, he atoned for his disappointing inaugural season by giving the Blues fans a moment that will forever remain in their memories. In the 2021 UCL final, the German international displayed stone-cold killer instincts to clip the ball past the onrushing Ederson before calmly slotting it into an empty net, gifting the Blues their second-ever Champions League trophy.

Style of Play

Standing at 1.9m, Kai is a lanky attacker capable of filling multiple positions across the midfield and forward lines. He possesses high-level technical quality and impressive footballing IQ, allowing him to adapt seamlessly to a variety of positions on the pitch. In fact, Havertz was tasked with filling a different role in each of his three seasons at Bayer Leverkusen. At Chelsea, he played in multiple positions as coaches looked to get the best out of him.

One of Kai’s most impressive qualities is his distribution. The German international has mastered the entire spectrum of passing, whether long or short-range passing, crosses from the wings, or through balls. His distribution is helped by his exceptional vision and football intelligence, which helps him identify spaces and opportunities before many others can. To get the best sense of Kai’s talents as a passer, one would have to go back to his days as a creative midfielder at Bayer Leverkusen — at Chelsea, he was mostly confined to roles on the wing or as the team’s main striker.

Another quality that will stand Havertz in good stead at Arsenal is his world-class off-the-ball movement. From dragging defenders away from their positions to create space for others, to penetrating behind the backline, Kai’s off-the-ball movement is superb. Kai ranked second for runs made by players in the Premier League last season with 1011, and ranked third for attacking runs with 876. He came fifth with runs challenging the backline with 332, and came second for total distance of runs with 23km. All of this points toward a player that’s always moving, probing, and seeking space to cause damage.

Kai’s positioning on and off the ball is also excellent. He knows when to drop deep to receive the ball while creating space for others to run into. His sublime first touch and close control enable him to receive and hold the ball in tight spaces. He is also adept at playing quick one-twos to get past opposition players.

While Kai certainly can’t be regarded as an elite finisher, it would be wrong to call him a poor one. Forty-six goals in 150 games for Leverkusen and 32 in 139 appearances for Chelsea while playing in multiple positions across midfield and attack points towards a player that is capable of scoring goals.

His ability to make the most-difficult finishes look simple is reminiscent of Robin Van Persie, and his elegance and build-up play have been likened to that of Arsenal legend Dennis Bergkamp. To be sure though, he still has a very long way to go before he can take a place in the pantheon of the game’s greats along with those two.

Havertz also offers the Gunners some height in attack. With the tallest of Arsenal attackers standing at 5ft 11in, Kai’s 6’ 2” frame brings aerial prowess and an ability to attack crosses. He scored three headers in the Premier League last season, and only eight players managed more headed attempts on goal. Kai won 56% of his aerial duels last season, higher than the likes of Aleksandar Mitrovic and Ivan Toney, who managed 48%. Arsenal’s Gabriel Jesus won only 37% of his.

While Kai likes to operate between the lines, he’s not an all-action midfielder like Kevin de Bruyne or Bruno Fernandes, who posses the turn of pace needed to get past opposition players. His lanky frame also makes it easy for stronger players to bully him off the ball, but he compensates for this deficit by keeping things simple and choosing the easy pass.

Make no mistake, Kai is far from a complete player, and he will definitely frustrate Arsenal fans at times, just as he frustrated fans at Chelsea. His finishing and strength on the ball are obvious areas where he still needs work. But he has the potential to develop into one of the best, and could help take the Gunners attack to the next level.

How Will Havertz Fit In At Arsenal?

When asked for his thoughts about his new attacking recruit. Mikel Arteta seemed to let slip where he sees Havertz playing for the Gunners;

Kai is what Germans call a ‘raumdeuter, a player whose primary job is to find space in the opposition’s defence and exploit it to his team’s advantage. A label first assigned to Thomas Muller, Kai is another who could fit the role of raumdeuter. When asked about his favorite position, Kai tellingly resisted limiting himself to one position, and admitted to a fondness for freedom:

Of course, sometimes it’s good to play in different positions and sometimes it’s bad, but in general i’m an offensive player. I like to be in the box, I like to score goals, I like to arrive in the box often, and I don’t care if I’m there as a No.9 or No.10, I’m there to score goals, and that’s it.

The presence of players like Bukayo Saka and Martin Odegaard on Arsenal’s right wing has brought immense creativity on that flank. Most Gunners’ attacks have been built from the right, with players like Martinelli and Granit Xhaka making runs from the left to finish off chances played into the middle.

Xhaka’s relatively limited creative abilities were often disguised by strikers Gabriel Jesus and Leandro Trossard, who frequently vacated the number nine spot to help Martinelli with build-up play on the left flank. The vacated number nine position gave Xhaka space to run into and create chances or score goals. Xhaka’s seven goals and seven assists last season represent his most productive season as a professional footballer, despite being a holding midfielder by nature.

But the injury to Jesus and the emergence of Eddie Nketiah laid bare Xhaka’s attacking limitations. Unlike Trossard and Jesus, Nketiah preferred to maintain his position up top rather than drop back to combine with Martinelli in midfield. This meant the Gunners endured a period where they weren’t really producing much down the left flank, and it also coincided with barren spells for Martinelli and Xhaka.

With the departure of Xhaka to Kai Havertz’s boyhood club Bayern Leverkusen, Kai is expected to take the spot vacated by the Swiss international in the Gunners’ midfield. This is seen as an upgrade that will add dynamism to a midfield whose creativity has been tilted to the right due to Xhaka’s relatively limited playmaking abilities.

Imagine an attack-oriented player like Kai occupying the same role Xhaka played in Mikel Arteta’s set-up. With Kai on the left alongside Martinelli, Arteta won’t have to rely on his strikers dropping into the left side of midfield in order for the left wing to become productive. Havertz on the left side of attack will be expected to mirror the impact of Martin Odegaard on the right, which should result in both of the Gunners’ flanks becoming equally menacing.

The flip side, of course, is that Havertz is nowhere near the defensive player that Xhaka is. This should be expected to weaken the Gunners left-hand side defensively, but Arteta may have a fix in store for that.

Last season, we saw Mikel Arteta rely heavily on Oleksandr Zinchenko to invert from his left-back position and help the Gunners create an overload in midfield, with Xhaka available to cover for him whenever he got caught out of position.

The limited defensive ability of Havertz means other lineup changes might be needed to maintain balance on the left side once he is added to the squad. This was a likely driver behind Arsenal’s acquisition of defender Jurriën Timber from Ajax, who is very good with the ball at his feet. It is believed that Arteta is going to play Timbers as a right back who can mirror the role that Zinchenko played on the left last season; ie, instead of having Zinchenko invert from the left, Arteta will have Timber do it from the right.

This will reduce the Gunners’ reliance on an inverted left back to provide balance in midfield, and would also explain why rumors of Kieran Tierney’s departure have gone quiet: the Scot may have been promised more playing time now that Arteta can field a conventional left back without compromising his ability to overload the midfield.

Last season, Zinchenko showed that for all of his ability on the ball, he isn’t the best defender. Trent Alexander-Arnold easily getting past him to create Roberto Firmino’s late equalizer that dampened Arsenal’s title hopes is an image that will long remain in the memory of Arsenal supporters. His decision-making in defensive phases left a lot to be desired.

A more natural defender than Zinchenko, Tierney wouldl bring much-needed solidity to the Gunners left-hand side while allowing Havertz to focus on doing damage up top. This could result in a reduced role for Zinchenko, and could also see Ben White’s status threatened by Timber in the new role of inverted right back.

Fantasy Prospects

Priced at £7.5m and categorized as a midfielder on the FPL app this season, Havertz seems like an interesting option for FPL managers. With Odegaard and Saka priced at £8.5m, and Martinelli at £8.0, Havertz provides a cheaper route into an impressive Gunner attack. The frequency with which he’ll be in the thick of the action creating plays, and his tendency to occupy the number nine position whenever Jesus drifts out wide, make him an attractive fantasy asset.

Keep an eye on the Gunners preseason fixtures for clues about how Arteta plans to deploy Havertz. Not only will these games give insights into the German international’s fantasy potential, but they could also elucidate the knock-on effects for other players such as Timber, White, and Zinchenko.

What are your thoughts on this signing? Do you think Arteta can unlock Kai’s true potential? Please log in and let us know in the comments below!