The typical defensive midfielder plays an immeasurably important role in modern football and their success seems to be inextricably linked to that of their team. One only has to take a glimpse at N’Golo Kante’s performances for both club and country to clearly understand and appreciate the recent successes of Leicester City, Chelsea and France.
From an Arsenal perspective, the Gunners have failed to recruit a top quality defensive midfielder since the days of Patrick Vieira, Gilberto Silva and Edu. For a club like Arsenal to play season after season without a consistently performing defensive midfielder is lamentable and quite frankly inexcusable – it is no wonder Premier League and European successes have been hard to come by for the Gunners in the last decade.
As a result, the question all Arsenal fans are asking following the arrival of Uruguayan midfielder Lucas Torreira is whether Arsenal have finally found the missing piece in their midfield puzzle?
Unlike some of the colossal defensive midfielders of Arsenal’s past, the 5ft 5 Uruguayan fits the mould of the somewhat smaller yet energetic and intelligent, sweeping midfielder. Whilst still possessing the tenacity and doggedness required from a deep-lying defensive player, Torreira’s low centre of gravity allows him to quickly navigate around the pitch to help snuff out and intercept any danger. Tenacity and doggedness are two words that are rarely associated with Arsenal, but Lucas Torreira possesses both these qualities in abundance. Against FC Vorska in the Europa League last Thursday, Torreira even attempted to tackle an opposing player with his own head.
As well as instilling Arsenal’s midfield with a sense of resilience, Lucas Torreira also has the tactical awareness that is so crucial to central midfielders. When Hector Bellerin or Nacho Monreal go on marauding, overlapping runs, Torreira knows that he must temporarily cover the fullback position to avoid being exposed on the counter-attack – something that has occurred far too often in previous years at Arsenal. Granit Xhaka was often the culprit who failed to cover a fullback or didn’t track back in time whilst the opponent was attacking, but with Torreira alongside him, Xhaka has been relieved from some of the less attractive, defensive duties, which should allow him to dictate the flow of the match with his passing game.
Torreira has only earned one start in the Premier League thus far, which came against Everton on Sunday. After an early booking after just 14 minutes, he produced a professional performance, holding back from big challenges where necessary whilst still ensuring he played to the best of his ability even with a yellow card lingering over him.
Prior to this game, Torreira provided a short but superb 20 minute appearance versus Cardiff, whereby he won 6/6 duels, had a 100% pass completion rate, won three tackles, made one interception and provided an assist for Alexandre Lacazette’s winner. Again, against Newcastle, Torreira came on after half-time and his ability to get the basics right whilst providing positive, forward passes transformed Arsenal’s performance from an insipid, error-strewn first half into a deserved and dominant victory.
Since then, Torreira started the next three Premier League games in a row, all of which ended up being comfortable wins for the Gunners, including a 5-1 rout away to Fulham whereby Arsenal showcased some of the best football the team has played for quite some time. To highlight just how pivotal the dogged Uruguayan has been to Arsenal so far this season, the Gunners scored a mere nine goals but conceding 10 whilst Torreira was on the bench. But with Torreira on the pitch, Arsenal have scored 20 times this season and conceded just 3 – that’s an astonishing 122% increase in goals scored and a 70% reduction in goals conceded.
Perhaps Emery attempted to ease Lucas Torreira into his plans at the Emirates by only starting him in the last three Premier League games. But a player of his quality, and one which Arsenal have been crying out for several years now, simply must start week in, week out. It is now time for Torreira to become an integral part of Emery’s plans for the foreseeable future.