Carra: How Havertz's Firmino-like impact has transformed Arsenal


Jamie Carragher believes Kai Havertz’s Roberto Firmino-like off-the-ball work up front has helped transform Premier League leaders Arsenal defensively as well as offensively.

Havertz, a £65m signing from Chelsea in the summer, has excelled since moving into the centre-forward position in February, scoring seven goals and providing five assists in 10 starts in the position.

In addition to scoring freely in 2024, Mikel Arteta’s title-challenging side have continued to improve defensively, conceding only eight goals in 16 games since the turn of the year.

“I think Arsenal right now are as good as anyone in Europe and probably the world defensively and at making it tough for teams,” said Carragher on Monday Night Football.

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“They have definitely improved in 2024 from the first half of the season, and one of the reasons is the role of Kai Havertz.”

Havertz endured a difficult start to the campaign but has become a vital figure for the Gunners in recent months and is expected to start a 15th consecutive Premier League game when they face Manchester United live on Sky Sports on Sunday.


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“He was mocked a little bit at the start of the season,” said Carragher.

“Finally, we are seeing he is a centre-forward. I’m not saying he is going to be an unbelievable goalscorer, because he’s not.

“But he is a centre-forward and he is helping Arsenal do what they are doing right now, which is being so strong defensively. That’s what is giving them a great chance to win the Premier League title.”

How Arsenal's approach differs when Havertz plays at No 9
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How Arsenal’s approach differs when Havertz plays at No 9

Carragher analysed Arsenal’s defensive shape in the 3-0 win over Bournemouth, saying: “When they have gone away to Manchester City or Tottenham, they get into a really deep block.

“But they are also as good as anyone at pressing from the front, going man-to-man and winning the ball high up the pitch.

“You don’t often see a top team also play like a team at the bottom. That’s not a criticism, that’s praise, because these attacking players are working so hard to get back behind the ball. That’s why it’s so difficult to play against Arsenal right now.

Arsenal's compact, deep block against Bournemouth
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Arsenal’s compact, deep block against Bournemouth

“We always say, from back to front, a great number would be between 20 or 25 metres,” he said when looking at Arsenal’s defensive set-up against Bournemouth.

“That’s 15 metres. How tough is to score past that? Nobody can score against them or even create chances against them.”

Carragher highlighted Havertz’s role in helping Arsenal play in this way, showing his willingness to get back into position to partake in their deep block.

His work-rate can be seen in the fact that, according to tracking data, the 25-year-old covers more ground than other central strikers. He works similarly hard in possession, dropping deep to give Arsenal’s wide players more space to run into as he did against Bournemouth.

Kai Havertz is covering 11.5km per 90 minutes this season
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Havertz is covering 11.5km per 90 minutes this season

“When I think of great centre-forwards in the Premier League who haven’t been great goalscorers, the one that comes to mind is Firmino at Liverpool and the work he did off the ball,” said Carragher.

“How often did we talk about that Liverpool team, with Firmino being deep, helping the midfield, and the wide players being in a position to penetrate?

Havert'z deep positioning gives Saka and Trossard the chance to run into space
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Havert’z deep positioning gives Saka and Trossard the chance to run into space

“[Leandro] Trossard on one side, [Bukayo] Saka on the other,” he added when looking at the build-up to Arsenal’s second goal against Bournemouth. “The centre-backs are not quite sure who they should pick up. They have been dragged out of position.

By dropping into midfield, Havertz draws Bournemouth's centre-backs out of position, leaving a gap for Arsenal's wide players to exploit
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By dropping into midfield, Havertz draws Bournemouth’s centre-backs out of position, leaving a gap for Arsenal’s wide players to exploit

“Look at the reaction of all the players [after Trossard scores the goal]. Everyone is celebrating, because they know the second goal is the relief.

“But look at Havertz. He is shattered. He is not celebrating because he’s absolutely knackered. He is on his haunches, absolutely shattered, because of the work he is doing for the team. Absolutely fantastic.”

Havertz is on his haunches, too tired to celebrate, after Arsenal's second goal
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Havertz is on his haunches, too tired to celebrate, after Arsenal’s second goal

It is out of possession, though, both in terms of their compactness and their pressing, that Carragher feels Havertz has made the biggest difference.

“They are in this compact state, further back, but they are also winning the ball higher up the pitch and doing that even better,” he added.

Arsenal are more compact defensively when Havertz plays at No 9
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Arsenal are more compact defensively when Havertz plays at No 9

“They have got a great song for him, the Arsenal fans. It’s a catchy tune. I sing it every now and then myself.

“He is having a real impact on this team and I don’t think anyone envisaged that at the start of the season.”

Watch Man Utd vs Arsenal live on Sky Sports Premier League from 3.30pm on Sunday; kick-off 4.30pm

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