Anyone who followed the Serie A last season will know Arsenals acquisition of Lucas Torreira is an astute piece of business. He impressed at the World Cup despite not starting the earlier games but the young midfielder excelled in Óscar Tabárez’s diamond formation, especially in the 2-1 win over Portugal.
Torreira was central last season to Sampdoria’s unexpectedly good performance in Serie A. Sampdoria lined up as a 4-3-1-2, with an attacking midfielder in the hole behind two strikers and a midfield three behind him, in which Torreira took the central berth. His job was largely to screen the back four, negate the opposition’s attacking midfield and link play between the defence and the players further up the pitch. In transition, Torreira and the other midfielders had the job of holding the ball and recycling it, as the full-backs who supplied width in this narrow formation would not usually push up until the midfield could release them. This is because Sampdoria played a high defensive line last season and the full-backs didn’t want to get caught out.
Torreira, as the deepest midfielder, was often either the link man to the advancing wide defenders or their cover as they pushed up. He was also the fulcrum of this Sampdoria side, defensively he made interceptions, tackled and provided cover to the back four. In possession Sampdoria would cycle the ball around the two centre backs and Torreira until gaps opened and he could then play short sensible passes either to the flanking midfielders, who split wider in possession or forward to the attacking midfield.
Fulfilling a similar role for Uruguay and in a similar position, showed that Torreira could make the step up to the biggest stage as well. He was instrumental in allowing Uruguay to press, which they did aggressively from the front with Edinson Cavani and Luis Suarez, while the wide midfielders moved out and pressed in the wide spaces. This left Herrera to guard much of the central area with the opposite sided midfielder, but he showed he was very capable of reading the game, intercepting long balls and shutting down players that beat the initial press.
So what can Torreira bring to Arsenal? Under Unai Emery, Arsenal will almost certainly use the 4-3-3 that he has regularly deployed his previous clubs. This could see Torreira slot straight in the base of the midfield, though he could also play on one side of the midfield three. Emery likes his midfield three to work in a certain way. The central midfielder Thiago Motta at PSG last season, sits, while one of the two flanking players pushes up but not both. Emery also encouraged his wide players to move into central areas and this meant that PSG could look like a 4-1-2-2-1 – this encourages rotation of the ball in the central areas, especially when the wide players drop deeper as well as in.
Emery liked his wide players to drop off to create space to run up the opposition. Torreira will be central to this, literally he is adept at finding space to receive and play passes out of the opposition’s cover shadow and his passing range means they will be able to play long through balls towards the wide men dropping in. He’ll also allow the flanking midfielders, probably Aaron Ramsey and Granit Xhaka, the freedom to move forward with less defensive responsibility and assist the build up from deep by working with the centre backs. All-in-all Torreira should be a very good signing for Arsenal. He’ll function well in Unai Emery’s preferred system, bring stability and strength to Arsenal’s midfield and allow the rest of the team to play with freedom. And, at only 22 years old – Torreira could be a mainstay in the Arsenal midfield for some time to come.