Mikel Arteta has defended new signing Kai Havertz following criticisms over Arsenal’s midfield following their pre-season defeat to Manchester United.

Havertz started alongside fellow new arrival Declan Rice and captain Martin Odegaard, in what is expected to be Arsenal’s first-choice midfield selection this season, but the trio struggled to gel well in their first outing.

This led to criticism that Havertz might not be able to replicate the physicality Granit Xhaka brought to the midfield role. Xhaka departed for Bayer Leverkusen this summer, and Havertz has been brought in as his replacement.

Arteta has highlighted Havertz’s height, as well as explaining how physicality comes in different forms, and defended his new signings as they continue to adapt to his tactics.

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“We’re going to have to find the right balance as well, but a year ago Granit could never play that as an attacking midfielder. It’s the first time we played with four players inside, and three of them had never played for us. So three out of four, they never played together ever. So, tranquilo!” He stated.

“You use a word that is ‘physical’. So if I put Granit and Kai and I ask you who is more physical? What would you say? Kai is one metre 91, so it depends what you mean physical. Physical is (also) to run, running behind the forward, to tackle. It depends. So we will fit in with the qualities that we have, that’s for sure.

“The good thing is that we have options as well. When we have a game that is more physical, we can become very physical as well. We have the right options.”

Adaptation time

Given that it took Xhaka and Thomas Partey over a year to gel together in Arteta’s system, it is no surprise that Rice and Havertz failed to click on their first outing together.

Pre-season games should be used to help the team build fluidity with the new signings, and Arteta will be right not to deviate from his plan of using Havertz, who has been described as “outstanding” by Owen Hargreaves, in a midfield role.

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Partey remains as an option to add more defensive strength into the middle, whilst Oleksandr Zinchenko is yet to return from injury.

Arsenal now possess a plethora of different midfield options, and the games in the coming weeks will give a better idea of how the setup will work, but it is clear that the plan is for Havertz to provide height and attacking movement into the role vacated by Xhaka.

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