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Monday thoughts: Classic tactics + Havertz progression

Monday thoughts: Classic tactics + Havertz progression

Morning all.

The Premier League table looks pretty healthy this morning after the weekend’s games.

I watched Man City’s draw against Chelsea on Saturday evening. I don’t really understand how Erling Haaland contrived to miss that many chances, good chances by his standards too, but it demonstrates that even the best can have off-days. City’s whining about not being awarded penalties is nonsense too. Neither of their shouts should be given as spot kicks, but look, on the day that was in it, Haaland would have missed anyway.

Our recent goal glut, scoring 5 against Palace and Burnley, and 6 against West Ham, has done wonders for our goal difference. Some will say ‘Oh, those teams are not very good’, but I would pay no attention to anyone of that ilk. Here’s the thing, if another title chasing spanks mid-lower table sides, it’s because they are powerful and ruthless and that is the mark of champions. That’s the way I choose to look at this victories. And ultimately, anyone who has to scratch around to find something to complain about after we win a game 5-0 or 6-0 is trying too hard.

I mentioned Kai Havertz and Leandro Trossard in yesterday’s recap of the Burnley game, and without turning this into a criticism of anyone else, I do think it’s an interesting development in our season. When Gabriel Jesus was missing at the start, Mikel Arteta used Eddie Nketiah there. Even when Trossard was handed a start against Fulham, he came off at half-time for Eddie who played well and scored a goal which should have earned us three points, but for some late defensive frailty which saw that game end in a draw.

The last time he started in the league was actually Fulham away, which was a dismal performance from everyone, and before that again his previous start was the 1-0 defeat to Newcastle away from home. I think Eddie has done his best to play a role at centre-forward that isn’t 100% within his comfort zone, but also that Arteta has realised that his best analog for Jesus is someone like Trossard. Or Havertz. Depending on who is in that position at any given moment.

In the Burnley game they both popped up in there. Trossard wasted some good chances right in front of goal where you expect your striker to be, but looking at highlights again it was noticeable how the German would often be the focal point, almost like a target man at times, with Trossard playing off him. A classic big man, smaller man front two. There’s nothing as innovative as what worked in the past, I guess. Look at how they combined for the penalty, and when Bukayo Saka created the moment which resulted in Trossard’s first half fresh-air kick, it was Havertz who was stationed in the centre-forward position to knock a Martin Odegaard pass down to Saka in the first place.

Like many, I struggled a bit with Havertz since his arrival in the summer. Looking at him now compared to earlier in the season, it seems quite obvious that it took him some time to settle in. Not just to a new club and a manager who is very demanding tactically (which must be a surprise given the mess he existed in at Chelsea), but I think he felt the weight of the price-tag and the fact he came from that particular club. His game lacked so much in the early weeks of the season. He seemed unsure, meek, indecisive.

I don’t think you can apply any of those labels to him now. He looks settled in, popular with his teammates, and his game is much better. He used to look peripheral, now he’s much more involved. I do think he is capable of more end product, and I’d like to see that as time goes on, but it’s like chalk and cheese when you compare August Kai to February Kai. Which I suppose is fairly natural. There is no prescribed way for a player to start a career at a new club. For every Declan Rice that hits the ground running, there’s a Robert Pires who needs time to adjust. And for clarity, I’m not saying Havertz is or will be another Pires, it’s just an example.

The other thing to say is that Arteta is a very demanding manager, and while I think some of his early season positivity about Havertz was very much a way to boost his confidence during those early stages, he’s not somebody who will carry passengers. I don’t fully subscribe to the notion that so much of what he brings to the team is off the ball, but there is something to it. He does win plenty of duels (something that definitely curries favour with this manager), and he lends a kind of structure to the team right now that is very useful. As I said, I hope there’s more to come because I think he’s certainly got the talent, but his progression this season has been very interesting.

Right, let’s leave it there. We are recording an Arsecast Extra for you this morning, so keep an eye out for the call for questions on Twitter @gunnerblog and @arseblog on Twitter with the hashtag #arsecastextra – or if you’re on Arseblog Member on Patreon, leave your question in the #arsecast-extra-questions channel on our Discord server.

Podcast should be out around lunchtime. Until then.

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