Why is Arsenal “midfield saviour” now at a career crossroads?

Upon arriving from Sampdoria two summers ago, Lucas Torreira was heralded as the man to fill the void in Arsenal’s midfield as a tough tackling, tenacious ball-winner. He was the midfield saviour.

For a while, he was exactly that, excelling with five consecutive Man of the Match performances during the Gunners’ 22-game unbeaten run at the start of the 2018-19 season.

Sadly, Torreira struggled to replicate those consistent, high-quality displays after being shifted inexplicably into a more advanced role under Unai Emery. The endless tactical tinkering of Torreira’s position knocked the Uruguayan’s confidence, which he is yet to regain. 

Read on below for our breakdown of what Mikel Arteta should do with Torreira as he embarks on a rigorous rebuild at Arsenal.

Initially a regular feature in Arteta’s starting XI after the Spaniard took over at Arsenal in December, Torreira was used more and more sparingly as the season progressed. An ankle injury suffered at Portsmouth in March saw him sidelined for four months but, after working his way back to full fitness, Torreira started only one of six possible Premier League matches. 

His absence can be explained by the emergence of Dani Ceballos and Granit Xhaka as a central midfield pairing in a 3-4-3, Arteta’s preferred system throughout Project Restart. 

Ceballos, who initially struggled to settle on loan from Real Madrid, put in some instrumental performances as a deep-lying playmaker. These were most notable in the FA Cup, where he scored the winner in the quarter-final and was one of Arsenal’s key players in the final, helping the Gunners to lift the trophy for a record 14th time. 

Xhaka, after the ugly incident that saw him booed off the pitch against Crystal Palace in October, has been a revelation under Arteta. Able to control games with his accurate range of passing, the Swiss international has enjoyed a renaissance at Arsenal when it previously looked like he would never play another game for the club. 

This leaves Torreira as the lone jazz record in a collection otherwise full of opera. 

Arteta has attempted to restructure a midfield that was left in ruins following Emery’s chaotic attempt at implementing a gegenpress. This fits Xhaka and Ceballos perfectly. Both are very functional players who can be reliable and dependable in 

Arteta’s 3-4-3. 

Torreira however, is more of a wild card who can win tackles, harass opponents and shuttle energetically from box to box. This explains his aforementioned success under Emery, where Arsenal looked to counter-press opponents far more regularly. Playing in a high-tempo system, Torreira was far more effective. 

The 24-year-old would not be the ideal player to fulfil a holding role in the variant of the 

4-3-3 that Arteta oversaw with Pep Guardiola at Manchester City. His lack of positional awareness as he seeks to win back possession leaves him vulnerable at times, meaning he would be useful next to Xhaka, who could sit in front of the back four, in a 4-2-3-1. Should Arteta be willing to give this shape another chance, then Torreira could play a pivotal role in that system. 

Presently, Torreira’s chances of being a regular starter at Arsenal are slim, and he has attracted interest from multiple clubs in Italy. Arteta used a three-man defence in the recent friendly against MK Dons, and is thought to favour that system moving forward, leaving no space for the diminutive midfielder. 

However, the unfruitful attempts to secure the services of Ceballos from Real Madrid, as well as Thomas Partey from neighbours Atletico, mean that Arsenal should hold fire before sanctioning the sale of Torreira.

Zac Campbell

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