Lucas Torreira takes a sip of his yerba maté, opens up Instagram, and removes ‘Arsenal’ from his bio.
He utters the sound ‘meh’, as do thousands of Arsenal fans when they click on his profile to find that he has taken their beloved club out of his bio.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge fan of Lucas Torreira. He embodies so much of what a footballer should be. He’s tough, has a relentless motor, and literally does not have one single regard for what the effects of throwing his body into a tackle at 110% speed will have on his future. I admire that.
Remember when he scored his first Arsenal goal in the north London derby and then tore his shirt off? Pretty awesome. At that point, I’m sure a lot of people out there were like me and thought, ‘wow, Torreira is going to be an Arsenal legend. This Unai Emery guy isn’t too bad either’.
I truly wish that Torreira had worked out as a Gunner as he nears an exit. No matter what, he played like Arsenal were down 1-0 in the 90th minute of the Champions League final. Every tackle made with the same tenacity, every goal celebrated with the same passion.
The latter half of this year’s Premier League campaign, into the lockdown and during the restart, he slipped into anonymity for reasons out of his control. He suffered a serious ankle injury in March to miss the games leading up to the halt in play, then played sparingly once games resumed in June.
Before his injury though, Mikel Arteta seemed to favor Arsenal’s other midfield options. Granit Xhaka was able to re-find his footing, in turn cementing a role as a midfield pivot/fill-in defender for Arteta’s new system. What was not set in stone, however, was the player who would act as Xhaka’s midfield companion.
This is where the door could have opened for Torreira.
For one, Arteta’s clean slate initiative gave every player a new start. In Torreira’s case, this should have come as a relief. Under Emery in the beginning of the season, Torreira was almost exclusively coming into Premier League games off the bench. Xhaka’s starting role was never in doubt as he was the captain, and Emery’s affection for Matteo Guendouzi meant that Torreira wouldn’t be sniffing the field at the starting whistle.
Torreira also missed his opportunity when others fell out of place. That famous trip to Dubai (you know, the one where Guendouzi’s ego destroyed his relationship with Arteta, the one where Ceballos ‘trained to his limits’ to get a starting spot) provided a moment for Torreira to prove himself. Since Guendouzi’s self sabotage plan removed him from the picture and Mesut Ozil’s tift with the club persisted, Torreira could have taken the moment to prove his worth.
Evidently, Ceballos changed his mind after declaring that he wanted to return to Spain halfway through the year. Arteta convinced him that if he stepped up his level, he could find a niche in the Arsenal team. He impressed Arteta and settled into the central midfield role which was desperately needed. Torreira, on the other hand, found himself playing a bit-part role – he either came into a Premier League game at the 75th minute to hunt down loose balls, or he started in domestic cup games with the youngsters.
How Did This Even Happen at Arsenal?
It seemed like in the 2018/19 season, when he played the full 90 minutes on 27 occasions, he was on his way up. This is a far cry from his 17 he made last season. So where did it go wrong for Torreira?
When Unai Emery was scrambling to find his best XI, he looked to Torreira to be a spark of energy in the middle of the park. For some time, this worked out for both parties. For Emery, Arsenal were winning games in exciting fashion. For Torreira, he was in red-hot form halfway through his first Premier League season. He was awarded with a man-of-the-match award for an unrelenting effort during a 1-1 draw with Liverpool, and earned the same gong again after his (previously mentioned) north London derby performance against Tottenham.
Torreira won five consecutive such awards for Arsenal in 2018/19, and he highlighted his last one with a bicycle kick late in the game to win 1-0 over Huddersfield Town. For a large part of the season, he was Arsenal’s best player. His ball-hawking in the midfield was huge, and the amount of field he was able to cover over the course of a game was an answer to Arsenal’s wishes at the time.
Defensively, Torreira gave Arsenal a unique asset at his peak. During his two seasons at Arsenal, won a total of 70 tackles, out of 94 tackles attempted. Although incredibly efficient, his tackles are measly in comparison to the amount of pressures he attempted. In about 43 full outings, he managed a whopping 978 pressures. This led to interceptions, blocked shots or passes, and turnovers. Although Arsenal have found a new identity via playing out of the back, a workhorse with Torreira’s (former) proficiency wouldn’t hurt.
In the 2019/20 season, Torreira’s form wavered and he didn’t take his opportunities. As Arteta’s plans continued to develop, it was clear that they did not include the little Uruguayan.
Lucas Torreira will always be remembered fondly by Arsenal fans as he moves closer to the exit door. He was one of the few bright signings that were made during the Emery era, and he shined a few times during that period. His goal against Tottenham is forever immortalized, too.
But overall, I don’t think that Torreira’s departure is one that either parties will be irritated by. The club has moved on, and Torreira’s style simply does not fit what Arsenal need at the moment. He had his moments, he missed his opportunities, and both sides can be appreciative for what they got out of the last two years.