During Arsenal’s impressive current run of nine games unbeaten, much has been made of a new-found resilience in the Gunners’ side. Of course, goals have been easy to come by but such a skill has never been a problem for them, given the supreme attacking personnel at their disposal over the years.
Lucas Torreira Has Been the Key to Arsenal’s Resurgence
Rarely have people questioned Arsenal’s ability to score goals. Yet, what has held them back from challenging for major honours and, therefore, reinforces people’s doubts about them has been their lack of ability, or some might say refusal, to make themselves tough to beat. The pragmatism, hard work and solidarity, so key to title-winning sides, were missing.
Many pointed the finger at the manager and it’s easy to see why. For all the beautiful football he instilled at one end of the pitch, the lack of emphasis on making defence a priority made Arsene Wenger flawed, especially towards the end of his reign. New manager Unai Emery quickly identified this and his new ideas and training methods seem to have already made Arsenal a tougher side to beat, with better game management and solidarity key to their impressive start.
After conceding five in an uncertain first couple of matches against Manchester City and Chelsea, Arsenal have conceded the same number in the next six matches – not overwhelming but certainly a sign that things are slowly clicking together at the back.
A key player to that improvement has been summer signing Lucas Torreira, who joined for £26 million in the summer. After many years without a genuine defensive midfielder of quality under Wenger, Emery saw Torreira as the man to fix such an issue, and it’s easy to see why.
A Shrewd Signing
Last season in Serie A, Torreira was a standout, topping the stats for most tackles won (198), most fouls won (174) and most interceptions (158). Such consistent performances at the base of Sampdoria’s midfield earned him high praise. “After Sergio Busquets, he is tactically the strongest midfielder in Europe,” Marcello Donatelli, Pescara’s assistant manager during Torreira’s spell at the club, told Sky Sports.
Torreira may not be tall (5’6″) and intimidating but he packs a punch. He is remarkably combative and uses his impressive tenacity and desire to break up play and protect his defence – something Arsenal have been missing and what has perhaps held them back from title challenges in recent years.
Would the physicality of the Premier League be a problem for Torreira? It’s early days yet but he has already gone a good way to proving the answer to be ‘no’. Despite not starting the first five league matches, the 22-year-old has had a major influence on a more secure and resilient Gunners in recent weeks.
Better Off With Him
In 442 minutes without Torreira on the pitch, Arsenal conceded ten goals in total and scored nine. However, during the 548 minutes with the Uruguayan on the pitch, the Gunners have scored 20 times and conceded just three. Not only is Torreira proving a secure shield for his defence, but he is also allowing Arsenal’s plethora of attacking talent a license to push further forward.
No game was more evident of this than Arsenal’s most recent and perhaps most impressive victory this season, 5-1 at Fulham. Torreira made six interceptions during the match – the most by an Arsenal player in a single Premier League game so far this season. In addition, he made eight recoveries, won seven duels and made two successful tackles. His protection is also starting to improve the fortunes of fellow midfielders Granit Xhaka, Aaron Ramsey and Mesut Ozil.
“He’s tenacious,” former Arsenal defender Martin Keown told BT Sport about Torreira. “He’s going to cover (ground) and he’s going to give you the miles. He is going to play in that area that Arsenal adopt now.
“If they’re pushing up from behind it’s easier for the midfield players. Xhaka I think can then get on the ball a little bit and show some of the qualities that he has, instead of people giving him stick saying ‘well you can’t tackle’. Torreira can do that role for him.”
It’s not just tenacity and skill in the tackle which feature in Torreira’s game, either. He has also shown admirable composure on the ball when distributing play from the base of midfield. Last season in Serie A, Torreira completed 2188 passes, the ninth most. Furthermore, in the Premier League so far, he is averaging over 60 passes per game at an accuracy of 88.4%.
He only made his debut for Uruguay in March but Torreira is fast becoming used to the big stage. He was integral to his national side’s run to the World Cup quarter-finals in the summer and is now wasting no time in proving his capabilities in the world’s toughest and fastest league.
As Unai Emery looks to combine Arsenal’s already fluent attack with newfound resilience which would boost their chances of competing for titles again, his new methods are important, yet obtaining the right personnel is just as vital.
And in Torreira, Emery and Arsenal finally have a man who can add some much-needed steel to a previously fragile midfield.