Lucas Torreira was only given 20 minutes against Manchester City, but it was enough. Enough to convince Arsenal fans that, on Saturday at Stamford Bridge, he should start.
Arsenal were, for large parts of Sunday’s 2-0 defeat, dominated in midfield areas. It was, perhaps, unsurprising: Unai Emery chose to field Granit Xhaka and youngster Matteo Guendouzi as his holding duo. The latter fought commendably – and looks a prospect – but he struggled to make an impact on the game against an imperious City side. Xhaka, too, found things difficult.
Torreira, although his cameo was brief, appeared more adept at stifling City’s rampant attackers. He is just 22, but there is a sense of maturity, of assurance, about his game. For Sampdoria and Uruguay, Torreira has demonstrated unerring levels of discipline. It seems likely to continue at Arsenal. It’s imperative, then, that he starts against Chelsea. Arsenal cannot afford to leave their defence exposed again at Stamford Bridge, and Emery will be aware of the importance of structure and discipline in an away game of this nature.
Torreira’s tenacity, his aggression, could be key against Chelsea, too. Maurizio Sarri’s side will undoubtedly be on the front foot, pressing high and attempting to take the game to their visitors. Arsenal will need someone in the middle capable of biting back, of matching Chelsea’s intensity.
The Uruguayan has not just been signed for his defensive capabilities, though. He is a capable passer of the ball and showed that against City. Against Chelsea – should Torreira start – his performance will likely go some way to deciding the outcome of the game. He is capable of controlling games both on and off the ball; a player with the intelligence and spatial awareness to marshal a defence effectively even against a side as offensively fluid as Chelsea.
It must be remembered that Chelsea, like Arsenal, is a side in transition. The efficacy of Sarri’s Napoli side is not yet there. There have been glimpses, though: Chelsea saw off Huddersfield with relative ease, without Eden Hazard. Pedro, in particular, was impressive, and Arsenal might consider him the danger man in the absence of the aforementioned Belgian.
The Gunners will, again, approach this game as underdogs. But this time it might better suit Emery’s approach. They are the away side, able to sit in and frustrate.
Much was made of Arsenal’s apparent lack of change against City. The team still looked and played as if coached by Arsene Wenger. The transition, of course, will take time. But on Saturday, we could start to see the beginnings of Emery’s Arsenal team, with Torreira as the ideologue, the focal point.
He is a player who probably would not have been brought in under Wenger’s reign. The Frenchman was wedded to his ideas and a player of Torreira’s nature might have sullied the aesthetic of his midfield. This, though, is a new age, even if it didn’t feel much like it during the opening game. Arsenal fans will be eager for a performance of, above all else, resilience when their team make the short trip to Stamford Bridge at the weekend. They have, on a number of recent visits, succumbed to heavy defeats.
A tactically intelligent display – and ideally a positive result – would be encouraging. And if there is one player who looks ready to represent this new era, it is Torreira. He is the type of midfielder that Graeme Souness, increasingly red-faced and angry, has urged Arsenal to sign for about a decade. Now they have. Keep an eye on him against Chelsea. You might just see something different, something refreshing; a gradual move away from the Arsenal of old.
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