Arsenal FC made a number of important signings ahead of Unai Emery’s first season as manager, but none of the new players sparked nearly as much excitement as Lucas Torreria did. But through four league games, the Uruguayan has yet to make the first XI. Read why he needs to start from now on.
Every Premier League fan has known Arsenal has needed a reliable, combative defensive midfielder to replace Patrick Vieira, who left the club 12 years ago. Well, they finally have one in Lucas Torreira, but for some reason, he cannot crack the first XI. The Uruguay international impressed in the short cameos he made off the bench, which causes fans to wonder even more about why Emery refused to start him in the first four games.
The double pivot combination of Granit Xhaka and Matteo Guendouzi has produced some good-looking football, but both players lack the defensive work-rate, intelligence, and mobility required to change the game from that position. Torreira, standing at just 5-foot-6, brings tireless lungs, nearly insane bravery, knowledge of the game, and ability on both ends of the pitch whenever he enters a game.
Every league-winning team in recent years has had a dominant, hardworking defensive midfielder at the foundation of their first XI, and Arsenal need to use Torreira so he can fill that role. Club legend Gilberto Silva recently said the new signing could become the north London side’s version of Chelsea’s N’Golo Kante, and although that puts a lot of pressure of the ex-Sampdoria star, the comparisons appear accurate when watching him chase the ball and fully commit to all his challenges.
The Gunners acquired Torreira immediately after Uruguay’s World Cup exit. Luckily for the club, they finished the deal early and beat competitors to his signature, particularly because his €25 million release clause made him an absolute steal in today’s market. He still has yet to make a start in the Premier League, which caused fans to question new head coach Unai Emery’s decision making.
He still has managed to see a little more than 30 minutes of action on average in each of his five substitute appearances. He particularly excelled in his cameo against Cardiff: he completed every single one of his 26 pass attempts, made three tackles and two recoveries as well as assisting a goal. On Saturday against Newcastle, he continued his run of strong form as he completed 76.7 percent of his 30 pass attempts, made one tackle, and intercepted one pass.
What does he add?
The midfielder averaged 2.8 tackles per game in each his last two seasons playing for Sampdoria in Italy. The closest Arsenal player in that statistical category last year was Shkodran Mustafi, who had 2.4 per game. Granit Xhaka, who has started over Torreira this season, averaged 2.1 tackles per game last season. In terms of interceptions, Torreira would’ve finished with the third-most per game on the team last season as he made two per game with Sampdoria. Only Mustafi and Laurent Koscielny made more among Arsenal players, intercepting 2.1 and 2.2 passes per game respectively.
When his managers allow him to roam forward, Torreira shows he has more than enough technical quality to help any team create quality chances. He completed 87.2 percent of his passes, with 78 percent going forward. He has a great feel for the game offensively and he doesn’t fear the option of running through the midfield with the ball. His highlights reveal enough about his game: he’s never afraid to try a deft skill in his own half to escape pressure or make a bombing run forward to get himself into position for a shot.
Many players similar to the 5-foot-6 midfielder can be liabilities when attacking, but luckily for Unai Emery, his new man is perfectly capable of contributing to the build-up. He scored four goals and added an assist in Serie A action last campaign. His above-average free-kick taking makes him a threat on dead balls and he, like Xhaka, has to be respected by defenses when he gears up for long-range shots because he has proven in the past that he is a threat from there.
Almost all of his responsibility will come at the defensive end of the pitch, so his offensive duties will be to bring the ball to the attack in transition and to make some incisive passes as the team works the ball out from the back. Emery has not had a player with the skillset to run the ball from defense to attack in the way Frenkie de Jong does for Ajax, and the Fray Bentos native can fill that need right away.
Torreira’s Tactical Fit
Unai Emery has many options for how he can fit Torreira into the team. He will have to pick between the new signing, Xhaka, Guendouzi, and Aaron Ramsey to fill the center of the park, and considering the club has conceded just one goal in the 119 minutes Torreira has spent on the pitch, Emery should bring the new signing into the first team against Vorskla in the Europa League on Thursday..
Arsenal’s new head coach has opted to use a 4-2-3-1 system in his first four matches in charge of the club, but adding the 22-year-old into the midfield might give the Spaniard some tactical headaches. Emery could stick with the 4-2-3-1 and do what France did in the World Cup: Didier Deschamps played Blaise Matuidi on the wing when they attacked, but the center midfielder would drop into the center of the park when they defended. Emery could put Ramsey on the wing and have a double pivot of Torreira and either Xhaka or Guendouzi holding down the midfield.
Additionally, Emery could opt for a more attacking version of the 4-2-3-1 where he would use Torreira with Xhaka or Guendouzi as the “2” in the formation with the front four a combination of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Mesut Özil, Alexandre Lacazette, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, and Alex Iwobi.
In order for his preferred style of play to work, Emery needs players who can link defense to attack. Xhaka and Guendouzi have had trouble linking the two, mostly because of the lack of pace and athleticism between them and the center back pairing of Mustafi and Sokratis Papastathopoulos. Emery doesn’t have any halfbacks more athletic than those two at his disposal, so he has to make a change in midfield.
If the Spanish coach feels obliged to keep Xhaka and Guendouzi in the first XI, he should move to the 4-3-1-2 diamond formation he used with Sevilla. He would play at the base of the diamond, just before the back line, and play the Frenkie de Jong role. The pitbull-like midfielder has the technical ability and quickness to beat pressing forwards, and his presence between the back line and center of the park would give Guendouzi and Xhaka the freedom to move further forward and put their playmaking abilities to use.
Gooners will rejoice when they finally see the Uruguay international play a full 90 minutes. Thursday’s Europa League match is the perfect time to give him a chance to show his abilities, especially ahead of tough league matches in the next week against Watford and Everton. Torreira has the ability to become one of the most important players in the Arsenal team each week. Once Unai Emery lets him loose, the Spaniard will realize he should have given the central midfielder a chance in the first XI earlier in the season.
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