Mikel Arteta has urged the Arsenal fanbase to be patient with Kai Havertz and pointed to a series of examples where players who’ve been loved have produced their best form for the club.
The Germany international has been feeling his way into life at Emirates Stadium, scoring a couple of times in pre-season but also being given game time in a variety of roles. Last weekend against Fulham, his performance was found wanting in certain areas and one poor decision to pass backwards, when he might have turned on the ball, was greeted by groans from a frustrated crowd.
The state of the game played a part but there’s no doubt the fact Arsenal spent £62.5 million on a player who had plenty of doubters at Chelsea also contributed.
Sensing the backlash, Arteta was effusive in his praise for his summer signing.
“I tell you what I feel about him, that I love him, that I see his qualities every single day in training. His work rate is excellent, a lot of the things that he’s done for the team is so good,” the Spaniard told his pre-Manchester United press conference.
“The visual one, the one with the stats at the moment is what is missing to put the ball in the net and to arrive on those zones and have a different impact in the game, but for the rest is that.
“It’s difficult to ask, especially our people in our stadium and our supporters for more, but my feeling is, give him love and we will get the best out of him.
“I think we have some very, very, very beautiful examples in the last few years with players that we have given a lot of support and be behind them and give them love and they have felt that and they just have exploded. A lot of good examples.
“So I will stick to that because not everybody is going to be willing for Arsenal to do well. But the ones that really by heart and soul, they really want the best for the club, let’s do it because there is a lot there to give us.”
Pressed on examples of players who took time to convince the fans, with Martin Odegaard cited as one, Arteta continued: “More than two months [for Odegaard]. And with Gabriel Magalhaes, it was the same. Ben White could not play as a full-back, he could not play as a full-back.
“Aaron Ramsdale wasn’t good enough..and now we have signed another keeper [David Raya] and it’s a catastrophe [in the eyes of some]. But Aaron Ramsdale wasn’t good enough for Arsenal. Bukayo Saka was a left-back and now he’s playing at right-wing.
“Granit Xhaka…we have so many examples, good examples. But the players have to love what they do. And I think they love more what they do when they feel supported.”
Pressed on where he sees Havertz thriving, the manager stressed that it was too early to be definitive. Instead, he’s happy to try new things and for circumstances to dictate the player’s future.
“We’ll see [about a best position], because things will change, you know, and you will find chemistry. Granit [Xhaka], if he wasn’t playing with Alex [Zinchenko] maybe he’d have been different. But something was there but that chemistry built and not just on the pitch but off it and that helped the whole fluidity.
“If you put Fabio [Vieira] and [Gabriel] Martinelli together, something good is going to happen because they are like brothers. And it’s something that is not in the tactics, it’s not in the formation, it’s something else. But they look for each other, they look at each other, they understand each other and they love playing with each other. And that’s a plus and we have to be all the time trying to sense that.”
Back on Kai, he continued to spread the love and also pointed to the need for good relationships and consistency with those playing just behind him.
“He can play in so many different roles and play it so well,” said Arteta.
“He has a football brain, how he understands when to move, how to move, when to stay, when to run. It’s phenomenal. At the moment, it’s true that he’s played with three different people behind him (Jurrien Timber, Takehiro Tomiyasu and Jakub Kiwior) and they are the ones that have to make him good.
“These guys depend on the ones in the back. I was a midfielder, if, the two central defenders are like this [with their eyes closed] and they give you the ball all the time to the wrong foot at the right time with the wrong pace. Disaster, I look bad. If I have good players behind me they make life much easier. So let’s do that.”
On Havertz striking up a relationship with a full-back that sticks, he ended: “That’s what we are working for and what we are hoping. And I’m very convinced that that will be the case. Like we were with other places, it’s never a specific science.
“But when we have to add ingredients to something to taste good and to look good and to enjoy it, I think they need to feel supported, they have to feel loved. He’s doing the rest. Believe me, his work rate is incredible.The amount of speed that he runs, the distances, he won more duels than anybody else in midfield.
“So there are a lot of things, but the one that’s going to make him the player that we want, the difference, there are other things as well. But make sure that he doesn’t lose t those basic things that are really important in our way of playing. way of playing.”