At Audi Field on Tuesday, in a well-attended skills challenge, Kai Havertz had 14 goes at the cross and volley competition. He failed with all 14.
Fast forward 24 hours and when Marquinhos sent a cross to the far post from the right wing in the final minute of Arsenal’s 5-0 win against Major League Soccer’s All-Stars, Havertz steadied himself, controlled on his chest and smashed a strike into the far corner.
That’s the thing about football. Deliver when it matters.
Evidently, there will be nights that matter far more than this for Arsenal.
Yet, on a sweltering evening, in front of a crowd in excess of 20,000 at Audi Field, the majority of whom were Gunners supporters and who cheered co-chair Josh Kroenke when he was introduced as part of the pre-match presentation party, Havertz was not alone in feeling satisfied with his performance.
It’s a footnote but it was the biggest win ever by a European side in the All-Star game.
“Really pleased,” was manager Mikel Arteta’s assessment after goals from Gabriel Jesus, Leandro Trossard, Jorginho, Gabriel Martinelli and Havertz gave his side victory.
Havertz can be Arteta’s flexible friend
When social media clips of his efforts on Tuesday started doing the rounds, they generated a lot of sarcastic responses, something he experienced during his time at Chelsea, which could be described as erratic.
Yet, in the end, he was being asked to play a role he was ill suited to.
Arteta wants Havertz as a flexible attacking player. Evidently, Jesus will play as a central striker but the German was pushed up alongside him near the end after initially being introduced on the left of a three-man midfield, operating ahead of Jorginho, who was the anchor.
“He gives us something different with his quality and his height,” said Arteta.
“For example, he can be the target man if we need to beat the press. He’s playing at the attacking midfield position for now but I’m sure throughout the season he’ll be used in different positions.”
Timber catches the eye
Jurrien Timber’s arrival at Arsenal has almost gone under the radar.
Signed from Ajax in a £34m deal after Arsenal won a battle involving numerous Premier League clubs, including Manchester United, Timber’s signing was announced less than 24 hours before Declan Rice’s much more high-profile move from West Ham.
Even in Washington, he came on at the same time as Rice, ensuring most eyes were trained on the England man as he settled himself in for the final 26 minutes.
But it soon became obvious Timber will have a significant role this season.
When Arsenal had the ball, he slipped into the inverted midfield role Arteta’s former boss Pep Guardiola has introduced at Manchester City.
The Netherlands international looked confident on the ball, is quick and can pass. He also spots danger and slips easily into the position of a more orthodox right-sided defender.
“He is a really versatile player,” said Arteta. “He gives you the capacity to invert and occupy different spaces. He’s so comfortable on the ball in that phase.
“As well as that, he’s got aggression in the duels and that dynamism which I really like. You saw with his first action, which was a high press, he won the ball straight away, won the duel and was ready to go.
“He is going to be a really important player for us.”
Trossard to be checked
Arsenal now move on to New Jersey, where they will take on Manchester United at MetLife Stadium on Saturday.
Arteta said Trossard would be assessed after needing treatment for an injury that triggered his immediate withdrawal.
“We don’t want to take any risks at this stage,” said Arteta. “He had some pain and we’ll see how he is tomorrow but I don’t expect it to be anything big.”