Lucas Torreira has exemplified the passion, hard work and tenacity that new Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta has demanded from his players, since being handed the reigns in December. The Uruguayan’s vast improvements on the pitch show us why Arteta is the perfect man to revitalise Unai Emery’s withered squad.
For far too long, Arsenal were missing a major cog in their outfit, a defensive midfielder. After his arrival in the summer of 2018, Emery went about addressing this problem immediately.
The Gunners’ most expensive summer signing, Torreira, was bought from Sampdoria for £27m as fans rejoiced at finally being able to replace their glaring weakness in their soft-centred midfield.
The 23-year-old displayed the desired qualities immediately, a hard-hitting, ball-winning, whirlwind that showcased a new era of life after Arsene Wenger. After a promising start to the season, which included a 21-game unbeaten streak, Arsenal began to stumble as old cracks surfaced once more. Players seemed uncertain of their exact role, with Torreira one of the most glaringly obvious underperformers.
The Uruguayan, who excels at breaking up play in front of the back four, found it difficult to adjust to the new attacking role which Emery deployed him in. Similar to the role Maurizio Sarri asked N’Golo Kante to perform when he was Chelsea manager, Torreira clearly out of his element, began to go missing in games.
Rumours began to surface of a potential move away from the Emirates for the former Sampdoria man, as Emery’s tenure neared its coveted end. It was no secret that the two were not overly friendly. The Spaniard revealed that on the morning of his departure he said goodbye to every player except Torreira, who was busy ‘receiving a massage.’
Torreira’s improved form under Arteta was most evident in Arsenal’s 2-0 win over Manchester United on New Year’s Day. After being reverted back to his natural position at the base of the midfield, Torreira was able to stifle any United offensive, racking up two interceptions, four clearances and nine ball recoveries.
“He’s starting to understand the whole picture much better, that’s what I’m trying to do,” Arteta told BT Sport.
The Uruguayan covered 11.41 km, the second-highest of all players, putting into action the hard work demanded from the new Gunners manager.
“He was really good again. He wants to fight for every ball. In training, he fights for every inch.”
Contrast between Emery and Arteta
It is impossible to document Torreira’s turnaround without acknowledging the contrast between Arteta and Emery.
The midfielder was not the only player to have friction with the former manager as disputes between senior players, Mesut Ozil and Granit Xhaka were much publicised.
But, with new trust in manager Arteta, Arsenal’s number 11 looks to have regained the form that saw the Gunners capture the little Uruguayan’s signature 18 months ago. Whereas he appeared to have lost faith in Emery, it is evident that Torreira trusts Arteta and this has been reflected in his performances.
“He obviously spent quite a lot of time working with Guardiola, who is one of the best coaches in the world, and I think during that time he would have taken the best he can from Guardiola,” Torreira said about Arteta.
“He wants us to be bold and take risks. He wants us to be in continuous movement throughout the match. He wants us to try to look for those passing lines at any time during the game.”
Arteta has excelled where Emery has faltered, in his ability to communicate his philosophy to his players and in turn, gaining their respect.
A simple yet important aspect of his coaching skills is his ability to speak seven different languages.
Emery and communication
“If you don’t learn the language [in a new country] you’re always on the back foot because you can’t really understand things, you feel isolated and you feel like you live in a different world,” Arteta said in an interview as an Arsenal player back in 2013.
However, at points, it seemed almost amusing to talk about the former Paris Saint-Germain manager’s grasp on the English language whenever he would conduct press conferences.
But, behind the closed doors of the London Colney training ground, it was of huge detriment to the players.
In a recent interview, the Arsenal number one, Bernd Leno, gave his thoughts on the perceived differences in mentality of the team with Emery out of the picture.
“The mentality out on the pitch, I don’t want to say it was a mess, but it was a bit confusing. Everyone was doing different things. We were not a team. Not in the dressing room, not on the pitch and you could see that.”
The German shot-stopper emphasized the effect Arteta’s arrival has had on the atmosphere in the dressing room.
“From the first day he came, he was not talking too much about tactics. He was talking about how we behave in the dressing room, when we go to games we have to be more professional like a team.”
An unwanted hallmark that Arsenal has possessed for years is their inability to adequately defend, a problem which Emery never came close to solving.
The Gunners conceded 225 shots in their first 13 league games this season, remarkably 71 of these shots came in the 48-year old’s final three league games.
Under Arteta, Arsenal have conceded 87 shots in his seven league games so far, reducing the 16.8 shots conceded per 90 minutes to 12.4.
A major part of this statistical decline is Torreira’s role in the team. He naturally drops back as a shield in front of the back four, garnering more ball recoveries in his first three games under Arteta than his final 10 under Emery.
Arsenal were blindly going nowhere. Now under the former Gunners captain, we have seen glimpses of the ‘old Arsenal’ with intricate passing moves and exciting football organically sprouting once again.
Although they have now had four consecutive stalemates in the league, improvements, however slow, have come.
At the base of Arteta’s incremental positive changes lies Torreira. The midfielder’s improved form can be seen as a direct product of the fundamentals which his new manager has instilled in the team.
If he and the other Arsenal players can produce the same work rate and communication every day, which the manager requests as a minimum requirement, there may be hope yet.