Nine games gone and still not a goal or assist to Kai Havertz's name. The reclamation project looks like dragging well into the autumn with the third most expensive player in Arsenal's history appearing on occasion to be on a wavelength totally at odds to his teammates in the final third.
The abiding memory of this display in this 1-0 win at Brentford was to be a miss that pointed to all of the flaws that he seems to have brought with him from Chelsea. After fine work from Reiss Nelson and Emile Smith Rowe on the edge of the box, Havertz insisted on one touch more than he needed before punting a rather tame shot into a mass of defenders. It was all a touch too languid, lacking in the ferocity and emotional heft that his predecessor Granit Xhaka would have delivered in the same position, score or not.
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Mikel Arteta might have hoped this was the game where everything burst back into glorious technicolor for a player who seems to have dragged with him the grey clouds that hovered over Stamford Bridge in his three years there. There would be no demurring to Martin Odegaard and Bukayo Saka. In an attack that included 19-year-old Charles Sagoe Jr. and Emile Smith Rowe, starting his first game in 499 days, the Champions League winner was the senior man on paper.
In practice, he seemed all too peripheral to an attack that, not for the first time in recent weeks, frequently struggled to click into gear from open play. The poacher's instincts of Eddie Nketiah would deliver the game-winner as he pounced on an undercooked pass by Zanka, squaring the ball for Reiss Nelson to roll Arsenal into an eighth-minute lead. That aside, the Gunners' most consistent route to goal looked to be the darting runs of Smith Rowe, who twice in the first half would pick up slipped passes from Jorginho before getting shots away.
Havertz's chances to have a direct impact on the scoresheet were altogether fewer. Then again, it is not just confidence and composure that seems to have deserted the German. Even luck does not favor him. So when the impressive Jakub Kiwior's crossfield ball got Arsenal flying up the left, another major opening came to Havertz. Did he miscue a pass to Nketiah? It didn't particularly matter because it dropped into the path of Nelson, whose low shot flew just wide of the near post.
The big moments aren't there for Havertz. The little things matter too though. As crosses flew into the Arsenal box, Havertz was on hand to make the clearing headers. On more than one occasion he did just enough to gum up the Brentford attack on the edge of the box. From goal kicks and open play, Havertz served as a valuable outball when Aaron Ramsdale went long. No one on either side won more aerials than his five.
If Granit Xhaka had delivered a performance like that, it would have felt broadly unremarkable. For Havertz, the stakes felt so much higher. That is, of course, the reality of Arsenal having let go of a perfectly serviceable left eight in pursuit of something better, a midfielder who could win his aerial duels, weigh in with more direct contributions than the nine goals and seven assists they got from the position last season. The obvious leap for this team to take if it were to compete with Manchester City was to get more output post-Xhaka, not less, and the argument that Havertz needs his confidence boosting only holds so much weight. The last three years at Chelsea broke many, but if a 39-cap German international is after a boost, he need look no further than the sizeable price tag Mikel Arteta just committed to him.
Of course, the headers, the flicks, the running into space matters. Under its previous incumbent, this was always a low touch, fringes of the game role, those marginal gains that add up to a place in the EFL Cup fourth round. Then again, £65 million is a big price tag for that.