This article is part of Football FanCast’s The Chalkboard series, which provides a tactical insight into teams, players, managers, potential signings and more…
When Lucas Torreira made his arrival from Serie A side Sampdoria in the summer of 2018 for a fee in the region of £26m, it was perhaps envisaged that he would finally be Arsenal’s long-term answer for a genuine holding midfielder.
After all, in his time in Italy, the Uruguay international had forged an N’Golo Kante-like impression with his diminutive nature but tough tackling and aggression. From the start of the 2016/2017 campaign, to the end of the season in which he had left, no player had won more tackles (198), made more interceptions (158) and won more fouls (174) than he did in the Italian top-flight.
And after his first full season at the Emirates, Torreira was certainly predominantly used in his more natural position. As per Transfermarkt, he played 46 times in the defensive midfield role, and only on four occasions did he play further forward. This year however, has seen the script completely turn upside down. Unai Emery has deployed him in a more advanced role, with the likes of Granit Xhaka and Matteo Guendouzi asked to hold down the fort – that has seen him already played ten times in central midfield.
On the surface it does seem incredibly illogical. You have one of the statistically dominant anchor mans in European football over the past few seasons, and yet invariably he been involved in the build-up play deep inside the attacking third. In response, Emery has sought to defend his use of the pint-sized Uruguayan, and insisted his tactical flexibility means he could be influential in more than just one way.
“I was speaking with him about his best position to help us in our shape. Last season his best position was playing as a deep midfield two alongside (Granit) Xhaka or Matteo. This year we are playing also sometimes with just one and he can achieve with his quality to get to the box and get closer to score. He is very intelligent about getting space around the box and taking chances. Then also, when we prepare the team to do high pressing, for us he is very important because he is very intelligent tactically, but he can play in the two positions.”
Torreira’s more advanced positioning has seen him notch two goals, both in defeats to Liverpool at Anfield. His tigerish desire to win the ball, combined with being further forward, means that when he does help turnover possession, the Gunners are far closer to the opposition goal to punish them. It is a thinking that is rooted in understandable logic, and not simply a random piece of tactical experimentation.
It has therefore been no surprise to see the 23-year-old register his highest career league average for shots per game (one) this season, and whilst it may not have brought great reward so far, there is certainly a method to the madness when it comes to Emery’s use of the midfielder.