60 million down the drain, Kai Havertz scores again.

“Tsamina mina, eh, eh, waka waka, eh, eh, 60 million down the drain, Kai Havertz scores again.”

Arsenal fans have gotten used to telling us we were wrong in recent months.

Their latest opportunity to sing what is, to be fair, a very catchy tune, came in midweek against Chelsea as Kai Havertz scored twice to condemn the Blues to a 5-0 defeat. It was Arsenal’s biggest-ever victory against Chelsea across all competitions.

Arsenal 5-0 Chelsea

It was also the latest in a string of impressive performances from Havertz, who is slowly starting to prove that Arsenal were right to take an expensive gamble on him last summer.

The fact that his latest efforts – taken by a player surging with confidence – came against his former club Chelsea, is symbolic of the way he’s revitalised his career.

After three years at Stamford Bridge, it was hard to evaluate Havertz’s Chelsea legacy. He left the club with 32 goals and 12 assists from 139 appearances. There were obvious highlights, notably his game-winning goals in the 2021 Champions League final and 2022 Club World Cup final.

But despite those big moments, there was definitely a sense he had not hit the heights many thought he would after really impressing at Bayer Leverkusen.

His signing by Arsenal certainly raised a few eyebrows. It was expensive, for a start, with the German international costing upwards of £65m (presumably “£65m down the drain” is too many syllables to fit into his song).

It was also curious from a fit perspective. As we wrote at the time: “perhaps the most muddling part of the transfer is the confusion over Havertz’s best position. It’s not really obvious where he plays. Is he a number nine, as Chelsea have deployed him for most of his time in west London? Or is he more of a number 10, a role in which he flourished in Germany?”

In fact, it seemed like the answer to that question was neither, with Arsenal and Arteta projecting him to replace the hole left by Granit Xhaka on the left side of midfield.

Despite what Arsenal fans now sing, the start of Havertz’s career in north London was anything but smooth.

Deployed as the left-sided eight in a midfield three, Havertz struggled in the early part of the season. He clearly brought a lot to Arsenal off the ball – an ability to spring forward from midfield to press and a 6-foot-4 frame made him a big presence in midfield and in both boxes. But on the ball, he looked hesitant and unsure. It wasn’t all that clear what he’d been signed to do, and rival fans were all too ready to declare the £65m man a bust.

He scored just once in his first 12 Premier League appearances for the club, and even that was a pity penalty in a 4-0 away win against Bournemouth that Havertz was charitably given by his teammates to get him off the mark. That penalty ended a run of 20 league appearances without a goal. It felt like fans were trying to think of positive things to say about him.

Havertz’s versatility was clearly one of the main reasons why Arsenal signed him, but it felt like he was being punished by that flexibility just as he was at Chelsea.  

His late winner against Brentford in November seemed to mark the start of his upturn in form. Off the bench as an impact substitute, he stole round the back post to head home an 89th-minute winner in a tricky away tie. It felt like his first meaningful contribution for the club, and a sign of the clear potential he offered. Havertz went on to score two more crucial goals in wins against Luton and Brighton in December.

The German was still starting in midfield at that point, though, and what is perhaps most ironic about his recent sparkling form is that it’s come in a position he wasn’t ostensibly signed to play.  

A knee injury to Gabriel Jesus at the start of February has led to Havertz moving up front. And it’s here that he’s thrived.

Since the start of February, only Cole Palmer (16) and Ollie Watkins (13) have been involved in more Premier League goals than Havertz’s 11 (seven goals, four assists). In fact, those 11 goal involvements have come in his last 10 Premier League appearances.

Across 33 league appearances for Arsenal, Havertz has 11 goals and five assists. Those aren’t eye-popping numbers, but they’re very respectable for someone who’s played 70% of his minutes as a midfielder. Arsenal are known for spreading their goals out, but only Bukayo Saka (23) has more goal involvements for Arteta’s side this season.

Kai Havertz goal involvements for Arsenal 2023-24

Arsenal have looked so much more threatening with Havertz leading the line than Jesus.

The Brazilian has once again struggled in front of goal this season. He has scored just four goals in the Premier League. Those have come from 6.3 expected goals (xG), meaning that Jesus’ historic finishing problems have continued this year. An underperformance of 2.3 is the largest of any Arsenal player this season.

Comparing Arsenal’s team statistics when Havertz starts as a midfielder versus as a forward shows they are more clinical in attack with him leading the line.

Yes, this is a fairly small sample size (Havertz has started just eight games as a striker), and the data points are obviously also affected by the form of teammates, but they do support the notion that Arsenal look far more dangerous with Havertz up front.  

Arsenal team stats when Havertz plays in midfield or up front

We can isolate the minutes that both Jesus and Havertz have played as Arsenal’s main striker to directly compare their output.

The numbers seem to indicate that although Havertz gets on the ball less often, and in less dangerous areas, he does a lot more when he does get on it. Despite registering fewer touches and shots per game, he lands more of his shots on target and, crucially, converts more of them.

He also matches Jesus in the departments outside of goalscoring, like chance creation and winning the ball back in the final third. Those are areas that Jesus is frequently praised for, and ones used as an argument to offset his weaknesses in front of goal.

Havertz vs Jesus stats as a striker

This comparison is not intended to denigrate Jesus, who has suffered from his fair share of injuries this year. It is more to highlight the extent to which Havertz has flourished as Arsenal’s main forward – a role in which he certainly struggled at Chelsea – and how much an uptick in his form has helped Arsenal maintain their title tilt.

We’re not sure you can call his transfer a “hit” yet. There are still moments where he looks clumsy and forlorn in possession, and unsure of himself in the final third. But we’re certainly moving away from him being a “bust”.

Arsenal may remain in the market for a striker this summer. Should they acquire a big name, Havertz’s place as Arsenal’s starting striker could come under threat. But that needn’t be a concern for the 24-year-old, who’s footballing skillset and unique profile clearly make him desired by Arteta and Edu. They’ll find a way to get him into the team. Regardless of position, there’s no doubt that Havertz is a totally different player when high on confidence, and recent performances show that.

Arsenal need to ride that wave for as long as they can as the season reaches its conclusion.

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