You can certainly see the logic in Arsenal buying Kai Havertz, a technical and intelligent player who is schooled in the ferocious press, barely 24, capable of playing across the front line and clearly far better than his efforts as a Chelsea striker would have you believe. But can you see the logic at over £60m?
Havertz is a signing that screams marginal gains. What was notable about Arsenal’s nearly men last season was the plummet in quality to the deputies. William Saliba to Rob Holding was a fall off a cliff; Martin Odegaard to Fabio Vieira was like dropping off the Eiger; Thomas Partey to Mo Elneny was a death-defying base jump until the Ghanaian generously lowered himself closer to the ground.
Faced with a dearth of options beyond his starting XI, Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta worked his squad like dogs until one tapped the canvas and others took on the air of broken men. Reinforcements arrived in January to allow tired legs a rest but when Manchester City moved seamlessly into fourth gear, Arsenal simply had no answer. They were f***ed.
Is Havertz an upgrade on Vieira as an alternative 10 to Odegaard? Undoubtedly, yes. Is he an upgrade on Eddie Nketiah as an alternative 9 to Gabriel Jesus? Probably. Does he offer Arteta the option of playing two 10s so Bukayo Saka does not have to play every minute on the right? Damn right. But should Arsenal – who do not have boundless reserves of Middle East cash – be spending £60m on upgrades to the understudies when there are such obvious deficiencies in the starting XI?
Arsenal’s squad will be pushed further by Champions League football so it absolutely makes sense to have more players capable of playing at that level, and Manchester City have certainly shown the benefits of having a tight, interchangeable squad of 16 excellent players. But it feels like Arsenal are prioritising interchangeability when they should be buying players who are unchangeable. Certainly for that kind of money.
Buying Havertz for anywhere close to Chelsea’s £75m asking price only makes sense if that is spare money for the fripperies of an extra 10. It only makes sense if there is still significant money for at least one central midfielder (but probably two) and a right-back. And a proper striker. For all Jesus’ excellent all-round play and energy, he is an interchangeable, not an unchangeable. He was not a title-winning first-choice striker at Manchester City and he will not be one at Arsenal either. He should be one of Arteta’s core 16, not the first name on the team sheet.
The spirit of Arsenal flows through this list of the worst finishers in the Premier League last season; it contains one Arsenal striker (the other would be at No. 11), two former Arsenal players and one seemingly future Arsenal player right at the very top. The Gunners thrived last season despite the relative lack of goals from their striker, but they should really work on the assumption that Saka, Gabriel Martinelli and Odegaard will not reach double figures every season.
Arsenal need a finisher. Even Manchester City realised after years of falsifications and inversions that there is no greater asset in football than somebody who relentlessly and ruthlessly scores goals. And all noises emanating from inside Arsenal indicate that such a player is not on their wanted list this summer, when almost all eggs will be placed in the midfield basket.
It’s fair to argue that a club without the resources of Manchester City, Manchester United or Chelsea cannot fix all its flaws in one summer, but that argument holds no weight if over £60m is spent on a player who is essentially another Leandro Trossard for three times the price.