“Finally, Arsenal have the defensive midfielder they’ve been crying out for”.
Or at least that was the cry from Arsenal fans and pundits alike having witnessed Lucas Torreira’s five consecutive Premier League man of the match performances.
His combative approach, combined with a relentless engine, established him quickly as a fan favourite at the Emirates Stadium. As he tore his shirt off in celebration after netting in the north London derby against Tottenham Hotspur, it seemed Arsenal had found a player who was destined to be a fixture in the side for years to come.
Torreira was heralded as Arsenal’s savior, after years of Mathieu Flamini and Francis Coquelin, finally, a player set foot in the Emirates worthy of Gilberto Silva’s crown.
Fast-forward just 18 months, however, and Torreira appears to be heading out of the door.
If you’d stopped watching football mid-way through the 2018/19 season, you might expect the Uruguay international to be heading to a European giant, amongst outrage from Arsenal fans. This isn’t the case, though, with the only sides linked with a move Torino and Fiorentina – neither are exactly making waves across Europe.
As for the outrage from Arsenal fans? Not so much. A collective ‘meh’ left the lips of the Arsenal faithful after hearing news of his departure – hard to imagine just a year before.
Torreira’s Arsenal career fizzled out almost immediately after it looked like he was really getting started. Clearly, something has gone wrong.
The Uruguayan arrived in a period of transition at the Emirates. After 22 years at the club, Arsene Wenger had stepped down as manager and former Paris Saint-Germain boss Unai Emery had taken charge of the north London club – enter the first problem for Torreira.
The beginning to his Arsenal career was restricted mainly to cameos from the bench, with Emery opting for French youngster Matteo Guendouzi to accompany Granit Xhaka in the centre of midfield. Torreira would eventually get his chance, however, making an instant impact.
He wowed the Arsenal faithful with a string of world-class performances. His crunching tackles and vital interceptions were met with such jubilation you’d be forgiven for thinking he’d just curled one into the net from 40 yards.
The plucky Uruguayan had won the hearts of the Arsenal fans, but less impressed was Emery. After finally being granted their wish of a tenacious midfield destroyer, the Arsenal fans watched in bemusement as their head coach set out a different vision for Torreira.
No longer played at the base of the midfield, protecting the back four, the former Sampdoria star would now play higher up the pitch, deployed as a number 10.
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Torreira, understandably, struggled in this new role and his performances wavered during the latter half of his debut season. It was a bizarre call from Emery but with his utilisation of Torreira further up the pitch, it was apparent that he didn’t fit the mould of what the Spaniard was looking for.
A summer transfer window continually linked to Steven Nzonzi reinforced the idea that Emery was reticent to use Torreira in a deeper role, his small stature being given as a possible reason why.
As the new season began, he once again found himself a fixture on the bench, unable to displace Guendouzi or Xhaka.
He seemed to be given a lifeline when Mikel Arteta replaced Emery as head coach but his performances struggled to live up to the lofty expectations he had set for himself the year before. A string of unimpressive turnouts coincided with an upturn in fortunes for on-loan Real Madrid midfielder Dani Ceballos, who, after replacing the Uruguayan in the side, hasn’t really looked back.
Unfortunately for Torreira, it quickly became a case of anything he can do, Ceballos can do better. The Spaniard outperformed Torreira in both tackles and interceptions last season whilst creating more chances per game and completing significantly more dribbles per 90 minutes.
With Ceballos returning to Arsenal this season and Xhaka a mainstay under Arteta, it seems there is no place in this Arsenal team for Torreira.
With funds tight and the need to bring in some attacking potency in the centre of the pitch, the Torreira has been deemed expendable. Despite his early brilliance, his Arsenal career never really took off – and now, sadly, a parting of the way seems best for all.