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Why Lucas Torreira Is Essential To Emery’s And Arsenal’s Success

Shortly after Uruguay was dumped out of the World Cup, Arsenal announced the signing of Lucas Torreira from Sampdoria. The move was widely reported as done prior to the World Cup waiting only on the tournament to end for an announcement. And true to the reports that is exactly what happened.

In the 22-year old Uruguayan, Arsenal have one of the most promising defensive midfielders in Europe right now. Those aren’t my words – well okay they are, but every analysis I’ve read of him, says the same thing, at 22-years old this kid is good, and he’s only going to get better.

The newly signed #6 was born in Fray Bentos in Uruguay and worked his way up through the youth ranks at Montevideo Wanderers, eventually leaving to sign for Pescara in Italy’s Serie B.

His initial performances left a mark and after only a short while in Italy was scooped up by Sampdoria, and sent back for a loan spell to Pescara. He was part of the team that helped Pescara achieve promotion and when he got back to Sampdoria the following summer, his fortunes would change further.

In 2016, Sampdoria signed Marco Giampolo, the swiss manager who had shown extreme promise with Empoli. Through his tutelage, Torreira flourished as a 6 and became a critical element to their style of play.

So, why is this kid’s signing so crucial for Arsenal?

First, let’s go back to last week’s post exploring the possibility of Emery, utilizing a 4-3-3. We talked about his work as the pivot at the base of the midfield three and dropping in to space when off the ball to break up play.

At Sampdoria, he operates in a similar fashion in a system that works more like a 4-1-2-1-2. At his Italian side its not just a defensive role he took on, he was expected to show smarts. And that’s something you need from your 6.

That role is vital in a 4-3-3 and even in a 4-2-3-1 as some of you suggested Emery might run with next year. They are the catalyst for everything – whether its speed of play in possession or breaking up play in a defensive role.

They must have awareness of pressure and possess skill and poise to play out of tight spaces and manipulate play. They have to have a significant range of passing and run with the ball at their feet. Finally, in possession they must act as the fulcrum of transition when building up out of the back. One of the things I always look for in any team playing this way, is the 6 checking into space be that outlet for the center backs.

Defensively we want our 6s to be able to effectively read the game and break an opponent down. Forcing players towards pressure and exerting extreme bursts of energy to close down space quickly. They have to be disciplined when sitting in their position, so as to not expose the back 4 to through balls for forwards to run on to. Finally, we want them to be fearless, show leadership qualities and effectively communicate through the whole team.

Area of Influence of the 6 in a 4-3-3

Area of Influence of the 6 in a 4-3-3

Now, what I’ve written is something I would tell a young player that I was working with to understand that role. But if you look at young Torreria play that is exactly what you get. If you watched him in Russia, you saw a very disciplined player he seldom if ever, got pulled out of position and then was always looking for space to support the Uruguay back line as the were building up play. In both facets of the game and at 22 he excels at both.

There is some debate over his size, I’ve seen some pieces say he is 5’-4” and others say 5’-6”, regardless of that he doesn’t have the imposing stature of someone we equate to with this position – like a Vieira. But that hasn’t hampered his play.

He understands at all times where to be and how to use his positioning to apply pressure to an opponent. He’s quite quick over short-distances and uses that speed to quickly get into good coverage positions. Added to tall of that he is fearless and not afraid to be shy in the tackle.

But that’s not his entire game.

When we explained the position above, we mentioned that a good 6 has to have some tactical nous about them. It’s not just a midfield destroyer and in how we suspect Emery wants to play, that’s not all we need him for.

He is always aware of when to move forward and support attacks, and his range of passing gives him opportunities to break the lines when necessary. His range and variety of long passing is especially nice.

You can get a sense of that from Played Off the Park’s piece using z-score to find the typical midfielders for each role (defensive and creative). Using an analysis that defined the top corner as a passing z-score of 45 and a dribbling z-score of 15, then get the distance/hypotenuse of their point to that point, the ten closest players under 24 included Lucas Torreira.

Deeper Z Scores for players Born after 1/6/1993

Deeper Z Scores for players Born after 1/6/1993 (Major European Leagues – 2017-2018) courtesy:

I’ve seen Torreira likened to a hybrid of N’Golo Kante and Santi Cazorla and based on the evidence that merits some truth. He’s got the defensive ability to break up play that Kante has but he also has the ability to e get past players from deeper positions, carrying the ball further up the field. Something, we’ve sorely been missing since Cazorla’s injury problems took him away from us.

Within his peer group (players aged 18-22) he is one of the best defensive midfielders in Europe. And with his mobility, range of passing, strength, endless energy and tactical understanding of the game, he is going to be essential to the success of Emery’s system and by extension, to Arsenal’s fortunes this season.

Don’t take my word for it – see what the great people at Tifo Football put together to highlight our newest signing.


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