Arsenal secured a tough 1-0 victory away at Crystal Palace having gone down to 10 men, but whilst they looked strong at the back, they were still unconvincing going forward.
Mikel Arteta again selected an attacking lineup, with Thomas Partey in defence, Kai Havertz in midfield and Eddie Nketiah upfront, and whilst the Gunners were dominant in possession, there was a lack of clear-cut opportunities going forward at times.
Havertz picked up some criticism for his perceived lack of contribution in the game, and whilst he was disappointing when it came to creativity on the ball, he had an impact on the match which may have gone unnoticed.
The German, who arrived from Chelsea for around £65m in the summer, has had a slow start to his Arsenal career, having initially impressed in the Community Shield, but earned mixed reviews in the wins yesterday and against Nottingham Forest.
Whilst he is yet to score or assist, his physical dominance proved crucial for Arsenal yesterday, especially after Takehiro Tomiyasu received a red card in the second half.
Havertz’s aerial dominance
Havertz won eight duels over the course of the match, more than any other Arsenal player, with four of those coming in the air as per SofaScore.
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Gabriel Martinelli and Eddie Nketiah were substituted following the red card, and Mikel Arteta brought on a lot of defensive players to close the gaps. Havertz eventually became the only outlet upfront, and this is when he came into his own after what had been a very quiet performance til then.
Arsenal defended in numbers to preserve the lead, and every time the Gunners aimed to relieve pressure, they had Havertz as a target man to aim at. Havertz won four of his six aerial battles with what is a physical Crystal Palace side, and his hold-up play helped his side push forward when penned back into their own box.
Whilst it is clear that he will take time to adapt before contributing more on the ball, which does raise the question of whether he should retain his place in the side, it cannot be ignored that without his physical presence up front in the latter stages of the game, Arsenal may have struggled to close out what became an impressive away victory.