How 'incredible' Torreira went from Arsenal's missing link to midfield misfit
Lucas Torreira has scored on each of his last two appearances at Anfield, but the Uruguay international will not get the opportunity to add to that tally when Arsenal take on Liverpool at the home of the champions on Monday night.
The midfielder will instead be sitting at home in London, perhaps watching the game on television, knowing he could well be entering his final week as an Arsenal player.
A man who many believed was the missing link when he arrived from Sampdoria two years ago is now on the verge of an exit, with the Gunners offering him around Europe in the hope of cashing in to raise funds for potential incomings before the transfer window closes on October 5.
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So what has gone wrong for Torreira in north London? Why has a player who made such an impact during his first few months in England fallen down the pecking order so much that it has got to the point that Arsenal are willing to let him leave?
It had all started so well.
After an early period of adaptation following his move from Italy, Torreira was soon in the team and turning heads with his performances.
He came of age against Liverpool in November 2018 during a running battle with Fabinho in the middle of the park. One crunching challenge on Sadio Mane had the Emirates roaring in delight. It was the type of display that Arsenal had been lacking in midfield for years.
Just over a month later, Torreira was starring on the biggest stage once again, this time against Tottenham in the north London derby.
Again, the South American was everywhere – even popping up in the Spurs penalty area late on to thump home his first Arsenal goal to put the seal on a memorable 4-2 win.
“It was the best all-round midfield display I have seen in an Arsenal shirt since Patrick Vieira and Gilberto Silva used to run the show,” Martin Keown gushed after the game.
“Torreira and Vieira could not be more different in terms of size and stature but their drive and determination is exactly the same.
“His tireless running gave Arsenal an extra body all over the pitch. You got the sense that if he could, he would happily do everyone else’s job!”
Torreira was the man of the moment and Arsenal fans could not get enough of a player whose type they had been demanding be brought in for years.
Sampdoria, his former club, even had to take to Twitter to ask Arsenal supporters to stop clogging up their notifications with tweets thanking them for selling the 23-year-old.
A week after the Spurs game Torreira was awarded Arsenal’s Player of the Month award for November, scooping 70 per cent of all votes cast.
Primarily playing in a role slightly deeper than Granit Xhaka in Arsenal’s midfield, he was one of the first names on the team sheet and praise was coming from everywhere.
“Torreira is the guy we have been looking for in the past three or four seasons,” enthused Gunners legend Ian Wright. “Arsenal supporters wanted to know when are we going to sign a defensive midfielder. We have got the guy we needed.”
“Torreira’s incredible,” added Gunners goalkeeper Bernd Leno. “He’s a fighter. He’s so important for our game, for the whole defence.”
In a matter of months, Torreira had made himself indispensable and Xhaka was loving operating alongside a player who had given him the freedom to play further up the pitch.
“Lucas gives us good balance in the team between offence and defence,” said the Switzerland international. “He lets me play my game with the ball and go a bit more in front.
“You can see that he’s important for us because he’s strong in defence and in duels. He can play easily from side to side and going forward, he helps with our balance.”
At the halfway point of his first year at Arsenal, Torreira looked certain to be on his way to winning the club's Player of the Season award, but then the problems started - though not through any fault of his own.
Former boss Unai Emery bizarrely started to play him on the right of a midfield diamond, with Xhaka dropping back to the more defensive role in front of the back four. It was a decision few could understand and one that seemed to knock the midfielder totally out of his stride.
In truth, Torreira’s form never recovered. Soon he was in and out of the side and whenever he did play, it was either on the right or sometimes even in an advanced central role.
There were still some stand-out performances, such as one against Napoli in the Europa League, but they were few and far between.
His second season continued on from where his first had ended, with Torreira often being played out of position. There was a feeling things would improve once Mikel Arteta arrived to replace Emery, but the Spaniard soon opted for a midfield pairing of Dani Ceballos and Xhaka, with Torreira finding himself among the substitutes.
A broken ankle sustained against Portsmouth in March looked to have ended his season early, but the coronavirus-enforced suspension of football allowed him to return for the final few games and be involved in Arsenal’s FA Cup success, though he was only an unused substitute against Chelsea in the final.
Those post-match celebrations at Wembley now look set to be the last sighting of Torreira in an Arsenal shirt. He has not been involved at all this season and has been told he is free to leave before the end of the transfer window.
As it stands, a move to Atletico Madrid looks the most likely option for the midfielder, though talks between the Liga club and Arsenal have yet to reach a successful conclusion, with the Gunners looking for a permanent deal and the Spanish side after a loan.
The player himself is desperate for a move. Although his dramatic drop in form can certainly be traced back to Emery and the decision to move Torreira away from his favoured defensive midfield position, there have also been genuine problems with him adapting to English life.
He has never been able to get past the language barrier. Torreira did start taking English lessons as soon as he arrived from Italy, but stopped them after a few months, and communication has been an issue ever since.
Despite that he is a well-liked figure amongst his team-mates and his attitude at London Colney has never been called into question. Even now, with his heart set on leaving and knowing he will not be involved in games, he is said to be putting in double shifts at the training ground to ensure he is in the best shape possible.
Should a transfer fail to materialise before the end of the window, then Arteta will more than likely bring Torreira back into his plans and the player will remain as professional as he has since he first arrived.
But his chances of becoming a regular have gone. Heralded as Arsenal’s missing link upon his arrival from Sampdoria, Torreira has become a bit-part player, something that will only increase should he stay and Arsenal manage to bring in either Houssem Aouar or Thomas Partey before the transfer window closes.
His time in England is one of missed opportunity. Both for Arsenal, who failed to get the best out of a player who promised so much, but also for Torreira himself, as he failed to adjust to the cultural differences and settle at a club where he could have been a star.