This week, Lucas Torreira returned to full training after recovering from his ankle injury. He provides Mikel Arteta with versatility to structure the Arsenal midfield in different ways.
Since he took over as the new Arsenal head coach in late-December, no other position has been more awkward for Mikel Arteta than central midfield. He immediately reinstated Granit Xhaka, who had previously been banished from the side, and then rotated his partner heavily, using each of Lucas Torreira, Matteo Guendouzi and Dani Ceballos.
Prior to the suspension of play, it seemed as though Arteta had settled on his preferred pairing: Xhaka flanked by the more creative and progressive Ceballos. The Spaniard started the last three Premier League matches and was one of the better performers in all three, his passing from deep helping to unlock what had previously been a sticky and clunky attack — Arsenal scored eight goals in those three matches, the same number as they scored in the previous eight league matches.
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While none of these pairings are especially convincing and each individual comes with their own respective downsides, what the quarter did offer Arteta was terrific versatility depending on what type of approach he wanted to take for particular matches. For instance, Torreira, who is the most defensively-sound, started against Manchester United and Chelsea (twice). Ceballos, most creative of the bunch, was first introduced into the side in a home win over Newcastle United, a team who were set to sit deep and defend.
It was thought that Torreira, however, would miss the remainder of the season due to an ankle injury. He started in the FA Cup victory over Portsmouth but was substituted less than a quarter of the way through after his ankle buckled under a slide tackle. It was later announced that he would miss around eight weeks, which tabled him for a return in mid-to-late May.
However, with the season suspended for what will be three months by the time the Premier League resumes on June 17th, with Arsenal travelling to Manchester City to kick off proceedings, Torreira has since had time to rehabilitate from injury and ready himself for regular action. In fact, this week he returned to full training with the first-team squad.
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Whether Torreira will be as fit as his teammates come the resumption of the season remains to be seen. He likely has ground to make up on many of them. But he will be available for the majority of the remainder of the season, which is certainly more than was initially expected when he first suffered the injury.
His availability provides Arteta with options in central midfield that he would not usually enjoy. Of the four potential options, Torreira is the most unique. There is no other player in the squad who can replicate his defensive efforts, his ability to cover ground, to break up play, and shield the backline against the counter-attack.
Torreira might not start every game. But he allows Arteta to play in a particular manner, to structure his midfield in a certain way, that he wouldn’t otherwise have the option to. Torreira is unique in the Arsenal squad, and his availability is significant.