Can Tor­reira beef up Arse­nal’s mid­field?

Emery hop­ing Uruguayan sign­ing will be the miss­ing link for his side

The Irish Times - Sports Weekend - - SOCCER - Amy Lawrence

Chelsea v Arse­nal Stam­ford Bridge, 5.30pm Live on TV: BT Sport 1 Time for Tor­reira. That is the motto Arse­nal chose to ac­com­pany all their mes­sag­ing about the most piv­otal of the five new re­cruits they have wel­comed to try to help Unai Emery re­work the shape of the team. Ar­guably, time for Tor­reira is long over­due in the sense that Arse­nal have missed the kind of char­ac­ter­is­tics he pos­sesses for aeons.

It feels like a long time since Arse­nal went to Chelsea armed with a mid­field ready to com­pete se­ri­ously in that depart­ment. Once upon a time they used to ap­proach this fix­ture with a feel­ing of su­pe­ri­or­ity that came from years un­beaten at Stam­ford Bridge. A look at the line-up to­wards the end of that era spells out why they felt able to walk so tall.

A cen­tral mid­field built around the mus­cu­lar Pa­trick Vieira, Gil­berto and Edu – all ath­letes over 6ft tall who were as com­fort­able pro­tect­ing the back four as pro­ject­ing the game for­wards – was a for­mi­da­ble ob­sta­cle for any team try­ing to make in­roads of their own.

Lu­cas Tor­reira does not ob­vi­ously come from that lin­eage. One of the small­est play­ers in the Premier League – he is the same size as the much-loved lit­tle mar­vel Santi Ca­zorla – he is more in the mould of in­tel­li­gent screen­ing mid­field­ers Chelsea have spe­cialised in, ini­tially with Claude Makélélé and cur­rently with N’Golo Kanté.

Tor­reira has a sim­i­lar mix of in­stinc­tive know-how to quickly get into the right places to in­ter­cept dan­ger, with an ac­cu­racy of pass as the cherry on top.

Arse­nal’s great play-out­from-the-back de­bate has a greater chance of work­ing with the ar­rival of a player who can re­ceive the ball close to goal and is very ef­fi­cient in small spa­ces. Tor­reira has that nat­u­ral aware­ness of where to be and where oth­ers are to build the game more se­curely from the back.

Full de­but

Emery has spo­ken of his “bright tal­ent” and Tor­reira is ready to make his full de­but at Stam­ford Bridge. “He is okay ev­ery day and is train­ing well,” adds the coach. “He is now with the team, is learn­ing English con­ver­sa­tion with us and can un­der­stand all the things we want to do tac­ti­cally on the pitch. I want to con­tinue with him im­prov­ing.”

Tor­reira is ex­pected to bring an in­jec­tion of re­silience. Dur­ing the World Cup, in one of his most au­thor­i­ta­tive per­for­mances for Uruguay against Por­tu­gal, he ac­tu­ally made a clear­ance while the ball was rolling along the floor by jut­ting out his head while he was hor­i­zon­tal on the turf.

The im­age seemed to en­cap­su­late a ded­i­ca­tion to the cause, an al­most crazy brav­ery to stick his head among the boots, that was the op­po­site of the stereo­type con­tem­po­rary Arse­nal mid­fielder.

In ad­di­tion to the el­e­ments of his game that re­sem­ble a base­line player, he also nat­u­rally crafts a range of passes from the back be­cause of his foot­balling ed­u­ca­tion as a more cre­ative play­maker. In his en­cour­ag­ing cameo against Manch­ester City he made a cou­ple of im­por­tant con­tri­bu­tions, and it was telling that he pro­duced one of the few rak­ing passes to find Pierre-Em­er­ick Aubameyang. It was a rare mo­ment when Arse­nal looked sud­denly de­ci­sive and imag­i­na­tive.

The se­lec­tion de­ci­sions that Emery makes for this game are in­trigu­ing in terms of the mes­sages he sends out to his squad. A num­ber of the es­tab­lished usual sus­pects were no­tably un­der­whelm­ing last Sun­day. Granit Xhaka and Hen­rikh Mkhi­taryan could not seem to get any kind of foothold, while Me­sut Özil and Aaron Ramsey looked out of sorts in un­fa­mil­iar po­si­tions – Özil very deep and Ramsey pushed high.

So does Emery give them another chance or shake things up? As well as Tor­reira’s strong case to start, Mat­téo Guen­douzi de­serves to re­main in the con­ver­sa­tion af­ter his de­but, and Danny Wel­beck is also fit and could be used as one of the wide play­ers. It will be in­ter­est­ing to see whether Emery feels it a safer bet in terms of his bud­ding re­la­tion­ships with his play­ers to favour the hi­er­ar­chy of ex­pe­ri­ence, or whether he has no qualms about giving out chances on merit.

Emery ad­mits he is seek­ing the right bal­ance in the team, and not only from a de­fen­sive point of view. If Tor­reira is able to con­trol the reins at the base of mid­field, that may al­low Arse­nal to be braver go­ing for­ward, able to pick their two main strik­ers, rather than start­ing with one and hav­ing the other as an op­tion to come on.

This is a chal­leng­ing op­por­tu­nity for Tor­reira to show his worth against a mid­field of Kanté and Chelsea’s new sign­ing Jorginho. It is a big chance for a lit­tle guy who Arse­nal hope will turn out to be the most suc­cess­ful ex­port from the Uruguayan town of Fray Ben­tos since corned beef. – Guardian

Lu­cas Tor­reira: one of the small­est play­ers in the Premier League

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