Arsenal's £25m transfer mistake that could have saved Havertz blunder
Kai Havertz has been a point of frustration for Arsenal since his £65 million transfer from Chelsea in the summer, with the German so far failing to live up to his price tag and justify Mikel Arteta’s belief that he was the missing link in the Gunners team.
Eyebrows were raised when Arteta made the 24-year-old Arsenal’s third-most expensive signing ever but there was optimism that Havertz would provide the work-rate in midfield that the departed Granit Xhaka offered while also bringing an added attacking prowess, despite proving inconsistent in his output at Chelsea.
Ten Premier League games into his Arsenal career, Havertz has grabbed just one assist and scored once from the penalty spot, perhaps showcasing why Chelsea were indifferent at making a loss on the player who scored a Champions League-winning goal for them less than two years ago.
Arsenal’s inconsistent attack has been hotly debated, with some suggestions that Arteta could perhaps have utilised his resources better by bringing in a natural striker or a cheaper alternative to Havertz.
But in the midst of Arsenal’s disappointing exit in the Carabao Cup to West Ham, the goalscoring return from injury in another tie for an ex-Gunners youngster led to some supporters wishing that Arteta had kept hold of Joe Willock in 2021.
Willock scored for Newcastle as they progressed in the cup at Manchester United’s expense and the 24-year-old has thrived with the Magpies in the same number eight role that Havertz has so far failed to master, perhaps making him one of Arsenal’s biggest transfer regrets.
Willock taking game to new level after leaving Arsenal
Willock initially joined Newcastle on loan in January 2021 as they fought relegation, with the England under-21 international having made just four Premier League starts during Arteta’s first 12 months in charge at the Emirates.
The youngster immediately became a revelation for Newcastle, scoring eight times in 14 games to keep them in the Premier League and leading to hopes that Willock had done enough to prove his worth for his boyhood club.
Instead, however, Arteta cashed in on the midfielder while his value was high, with Newcastle paying £25m to permanently sign him, while Arsenal paid £15.75m to sign Albert Sambi Lokonga from Anderlecht as a replacement.
Lokonga has since made just 25 league appearances and spent time out on loan, while Willock has become integral to Newcastle, becoming a more well-rounded, composed midfielder under Eddie Howe than the sparkplug he was during his loan spell.
Indeed, Willock boasted more progressive passes and carries last season than Havertz has throughout his time in the Premier League, while his development and maturity both on and off the pitch has proven that he is a player far beyond what Arteta and Arsenal had anticipated.
Selling Joe WILLOCK for 20M in today's market was a mistake by Mikel Arteta and Arsenal especially when you're sign Vieira and Havertz to play in his position. pic.twitter.com/mhsuZhaDK2
— Duloh (@Afc_Duloh) November 2, 2023
For all of Arteta’s coaching prowess, his preference for signing unproven young talent has taken precedent over Arsenal’s academy youngsters, with the likes of Emile Smith Rowe and Reiss Nelson limited to bit part roles in the squad, while Folarin Balogun was also sold after a similarly-beneficial loan spell to Willock at Reims.
Consequently, Arsenal may end up seeing more academy graduates flourish elsewhere and potential alternatives like Havertz and Lokonga struggle and while those decisions may benefit the careers of players such as Willock, Arteta may live to regret being hasty over his Hale End talent.