Football News

Emmanuel Petit explains why Arsenal enigma Kai Havertz “should write a book”

By Mohamed Moallim

Published: 12:00, 13 June 2024 | Updated: 17:26, 14 June 2024

Emmanuel Petit has praised Arsenal forward Kai Havertz for his ability to go unnoticed before altering the course of a game.

The native of Aachen completed a £60m from Chelsea but struggled to cement a regular starting berth until head coach Mikel Arteta transformed him into their ‘false nine’, which is familiar territory.

During three years at Stamford Bridge, the versatile German international played under four different managers across several different positions (notably the false nine role), giving him a return of 32 goals and 15 assists in 139 appearances.

Havertz’s most noteworthy moment undoubtedly came in the 2021 Champions League final when he scored the winning goal against Manchester City before doing the same in the forthcoming Club World Cup final, making him the first player to achieve this feat since Lionel Messi a decade earlier.

Since crossing the London divide, he’s featured in all of Arsenal’s opening 12 league matches, subsequently registering one goal. He would add three more goals in the Gunners’ next five outings before enduring a seven-game scoreless run (while missing their 2-0 loss against West Ham through suspension).

However, to say he finished the 2023/24 season on a strong note would be an understatement; striking nine times — subsequently becoming the first German to score in four consecutive Premier League matches — while creating a further six goals. Furthermore, he was the first Arsenal player since Alexis Sanchez in 2016/17 to score and assist in four matches in a single campaign.

Seeing confidence running high in Havertz has undoubtedly put a smile on Julian Nagelsmann’s face and two metrics perfectly illustrate that. Between matchday one to 13, his shot conversion rate (inc. blocks) and conversion (ex. penalties) were 14.29 and 11.11%, respectively. From matchday 14 to season end, Havertz’s shot conversion rate (inc. blocks) and conversion (ex. penalties) reads 20 and 26.47%, respectively.

Petit, who represented both capital teams, feels patience has been rewarded and Havertz’s mental fortitude should be studied.

“Kai Havertz should write a book, honestly. Since he came to England with Chelsea, with all the criticism he received, then it changes and all of a sudden, step by step, he received the confidence of Mikel Arteta,” he told Betway.

“Even when he was not playing well, he was still on the pitch. If you ask me what Kai Havertz’s best position is, I have no idea. Is he a midfielder, a box-to-box player, a striker, a No. 10? I don’t know, but what I do know is that his spell at Arsenal gave him a rebirth.

“He’s happy now, he’s smiling. I’ve been watching him for 16 months, he was always sad on the pitch, like a victim receiving criticism and never getting a chance to answer it. But everything changed, so his confidence is back, his happiness is back, and you have to watch him because, he has the talent to be forgotten on the pitch and all of a sudden he could strike.”

Having completed the full 90 minutes on 18 occasions (from 30 starting appearances), the former Bayer Leverkusen man doesn’t have a fixed position, though he predominantly led Arsenal’s attack, something lauded by Arteta earlier this year.

“I love him,” he told a press conference. “I think we all love him a player, as a person, everything he brings to the team. There were two or three moments the other day [against West Ham] with 4, 5, 6-0, how he tracks people, how he is defending the box, how he’s attacking the box, the position that he’s constantly a threat in the opponent’s box and that’s what I really like. You ask him to play as a 9, as a right attacking midfielder, as a left attacking midfielder, at the base defending, and he does it. He’s just a joy to work with.”

Nothing highlighted the 25-year-old’s team player qualities more than when Arteta used him as Arsenal’s centre-forward against Liverpool (3-1) and Newcastle United (4-1), two of the strongest pressing sides in the league. In those games, Rice and Jorginho gave Arsenal greater control from deep and added protection for the back four. But he also saw Havertz as the perfect out-ball, providing height and strong hold-up play that allowed his goalkeeper and defenders to confidently pass the ball long, thus bypassing the opposition’s press.

As touched upon, Havertz’s versatility makes him an asset, though, in the final third of the 2023/24 season, he’s exclusively played in a false nine role (1100 minutes) with 402 other minutes coming in central midfield and 10 on the right flank.

For a while, it seemed Havertz could play at left-back for Germany at this summer’s home European Championship after eyebrows were raised when Nagelsmann revealed he would start at left-back in their 3-2 friendly loss against Turkey.

“Kai won’t always be in this position. I have a great idea, he’s an exceptionally good footballer. This is a very good option. He won’t always play as a classic left-back,” he told reporters.

However, that experiment was shelved with Havertz’s strong Premier League finish, convincing Nagelsmann that he should lead Germany’s attack.