Mikel Arteta hails ‘exceptional’ Kai Havertz after late winner against Brentford

Mikel Arteta hails ‘exceptional’ Kai Havertz after late winner against Brentford

Mikel Arteta hailed match-winner Kai Havertz as an “exceptional player” after his late header saw Arsenal beat Brentford to move top of the Premier League.

With title rivals Liverpool and Manchester City facing off on Sunday, any victory for Arsenal would have taken them to the summit for the first time in 2024 – they will stay there if that game is drawn.

It looked like they were on course to miss out after returning goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale gifted a goal to Yoane Wissa to cancel out a brilliant Declan Rice header, only for Havertz to convert with four minutes remaining to secure a 2-1 victory.

Havertz was serenaded by the home fans at full-time as he made it four goals in his last four league games, continuing to bely the criticism of his early-season form following his move from Chelsea.

“I’m so happy,” Arteta said when asked if Havertz had now justified his big-money move.

“If somebody told me after the first two or three months that the whole stadium would be singing his song with that passion, with that feeling, with that chemistry, I would have found it hard to believe.

“That’s what happens to good people. He’s an exceptional player. When he starts to score goals like this and everything starts to flow people feel more connected with him.

“They see his work rate, they see his intelligence, they see how he plays for the team and how he’s contributing. It’s impossible not to love him.”

Mikel Arteta celebrates with the Arsenal fans after the win over Brentford
Mikel Arteta celebrates victory with the Arsenal fans (John Walton/PA)

Rice rose to head home a career-best sixth goal of the season but deep in first-half stoppage time, Ramsdale collected a routine back-pass from Gabriel Maghalaes but dallied in possession and his attempted clearance was blocked into the net by Wissa.

Ramsdale has not played since the return game at Brentford in November after losing the battle for the Arsenal number one spot to David Raya – who is on loan from the Bees and therefore ineligible against his parent club – and this could yet be his final outing for the Gunners.

He recovered to make two smart saves in the second-half and Arteta was pleased his error did not ultimately cost the Gunners.

“I’m really happy especially because he did exactly what he is, which is a person with huge personality and courage, very determined,” he said.

“Errors are part of football. It’s how you react to it, especially for the keepers which is probably the most difficult position. He did so in an amazing way. I’m not surprised because the whole team and the whole stadium was behind him.

Aaron Ramsdale, right, embraces Kai Havertz at full-time
Aaron Ramsdale, right, was thankful as Kai Havertz spared his blushes (John Walton/PA)

“He has earned that respect and admiration. We really wanted to win for him.”

Havertz’s header meant Ramsdale’s blushes were spared – but Brentford boss Thomas Frank felt the Germany forward was lucky to still be on the pitch to score the winner.

Having been booked for an elbow on Kristoffer Ajer, he managed to avoid a second caution despite seemingly diving in an attempt to win a penalty.

“Havertz is a clear, clear dive,” said Frank.

“I wish they would just admit it. I don’t know if he has because that happens all the time, every week someone is doing it. I know it happens.

“That should of course been a second yellow and a red card. And then he wouldn’t be able to score the winner and hopefully maybe we would have gained a little bit more momentum, maybe to win the game.”