Tactics Journal

by Kyle Boas

Analyzing football tactics

Kai Havertz is a Momentum Killer

Kai Havertz is a killer of momentum for Arsenal despite all his positives — hold-up play, dueling, positioning, finding space — his inconsistent touch and pass combined with his inability to pull the trigger ruins most plays he is involved in.

Figure 1.1 - Declan Rice passes to Kai Havertz's right side.
Figure 1.2 - His first touch hits the ball into the air.
Figure 1.3 - Kai Havertz passes to Jakub Kiwior.
Figure 1.4 - The pass is placed too far ahead of Jakub Kiwior so he has to stretch for the ball.

The bobbled first touch from Havertz delays the play. He has to wait for the ball to fall to ground before taking the next touch forward to pass.

He passes the ball too far ahead of Kiwior, forcing Kiwior to break stride.

Both delay the momentum of the play. By the time Kiwior settles the ball, Liverpool’s second line are back to defend. Reiss Nelson is now at walking pace on the wing, marked.

Arsenal could have had the numerical advantage to Liverpool’s back-line if the turn and pass were quicker and more well executed.

Figure 2.1 - Martin Ødegaard carries the ball forward.
Figure 2.1 - Martin Ødegaard passes to Kai Havertz.
Figure 2.3 - Kai Havertz takes his first touch.
Figure 2.4 - Kai Havertz whiffs the pass to Jakub Kiwior with his back left heel.

Kai’s first touch is too close to his body. For that reason, when he attempts to pass the ball, he hits the ball with his back heel. He gets zero power on the pass, that was intended for Kiwior.

Figure 2.5 - Reiss Nelson comes back to gather the ball.
Figure 2.6 - Reiss Nelson touches the ball. Liverpool's second line are behind the ball.
Figure 2.7 - Reiss Nelson gathers the ball.
Figure 2.8 - Jakub Kiwior has the ball on the touch-line.

Reiss Nelson then has to come back to receive the ball, Liverpool have time to get their second line back. The play ends. Momentum is dead. Now Arsenal get to circulate the ball for the umpteenth time.

Figure 3.1 - Kai Havertz peels off to the right to receive the pass from Martin Ødegaard.
Figure 3.2 - Kai Havertz has not prepared his body to shoot.

It’s great that Havertz pulled off to the right to open the space for the pass but a striker prepares their body to shoot. The entire right side of the net is open to pass it in first time to the bottom right hand corner.

Figure 3.3 - Kai Havertz takes a touch left.

His first touch is negative, backwards. Alisson has now closed down the angle for the shot but there’s still enough room to attempt a shot towards the right hand side of the net.

If he strikes it hard enough, Alisson will have a hard time saving it. The ball is too close to his body though to generate the necessary power or accuracy.

Figure 3.4 - Kai Havertz takes another touch and Reiss Nelson is open.
Figure 3.5 - Kai Havertz shoots into traffic and Martin Ødegaard is free to receive a pass.

Now we get into what I talked about yesterday before the game. Find the free man on the far-side.

The man is free on the far-side and the pass is not played. It is a simple pass, he just needed to get his head up once. Liverpool are too overcommitted to the ball.

That is a simple tap-in for Nelson first-time, and Ødegaard can take one touch and shoot the ball into the bottom left corner.

Instead, Kai Havertz chooses to shoot and it gets deflected, and the ball does not even reach the goal.

Figure 4.1 - Kai Havertz receives the ball.

Ibrahima Konate is off-balance: What is the most negative touch one can take in this scenario to allow Konate to get back into a good position to defend?

Figure 4.2 - Kai Havertz takes a touch diagonal to the left, away from goal.
Figure 4.3 - Second touch.

This is the most negative touch Havertz could take. He can’t shoot, he can’t pass. He is running away from the goal. Konate can now regroup and to prepare to challenge the ball.

The positive first-touch would have been forward, towards Konate, to take advantage of his panicked gate.

Figure 4.4 - Kai Havertz takes his third touch into the box to the left of Ibrahima Konate.
Figure 4.5 - Martin Ødegaard calls for the ball as Kai Havertz takes his fifth touch.
Figure 4.6 - Kai Havertz shoots with his fifth touch, ignoring the cut-back to Martin Ødegaard.

The man is free on the far-side again and they are ignored. That cut-back to Ødegaard is quintessential Arsenal. That is their bread and butter.

Cut-back to Ødegaard, first-time shot on the ground for the goal. We saw it happen dozens of times last season.

Figure 4.7 - Alisson makes the easy save with his chest.
Figure 5.1 - Premier League teams ordered by goals from open play in 2023/24. Data via WhoScored

Arsenal rank 12th for goals from open play in the Premier League with only 18 goals. That is a shocking fall from grace for a team that topped that table last season with 62 goals from open play.

Since their match against Aston Villa, Arsenal have attempted 106 shots, accumulating 9.95xG, and have only scored 4 goals. Data from Cannon Stats

This dynamic in the midfield or up top with a player that kills momentum for the players operating on the left-side, and doesn’t finish chances from the players in the middle or on the right-side, it does not work.

Gabriel Martinelli is not the problem. He is working with his hands tied behind his back when he is receiving the ball, alone, isolated.

Havertz can get in good positions, can win duels, be world-class in the counter-press, but his touch and pass disrupt the flow of the team. That makes him a liability until these three things improve:

  • First and second touch needs to be played into space, away from his feet, so he can quickly play the ball wide. And it can’t disrupt the stride of the receiver, they should not be stretching for the ball.
  • He needs to get his head up when he’s dribbling to see the easy cut-back or pass to the man free on the far-side.
  • He has to prepare his body better when he has the opportunity to perform a first-time shot. Arsenal love first-time shots.

Havertz should be someone who plays secondary to the striker. Think Thomas Muller and Miroslav Klose, or Dennis Bergkamp and Thierry Henry. Havertz fits the role of a Muller or Bergkamp, not Klose or Henry.

Match: Arsenal 0-2 Liverpool, 7 January 2024

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