Arsenal are expected to conclude their major transfer business for this summer and the first window of Unai Emery’s reign with a £26m deal for Sampdoria and Uruguay midfielder Lucas Torreira.
The 22-year-old holding player reached the quarter-finals of the World Cup on international duty and, following the exit of Oscar Tabarez’s team from the tournament in Russia, he is now set to complete his club move from Serie A to the Emirates.
What are the Gunners getting for their money? And what sets Torreira apart from other similar transfer targets such as Steven N’Zonzi – a player Emery coached at Sevilla?
Arsenal are 9/4 chances in the 888 Sport betting for a return to the Premier League’s top four this coming season and also among the favourites (at around 6/1) to win the Europa League, which Emery won three times in a row between 2014 and 2016.
Midfield shields have evolved
“Lucas Torreira” by Enzo Retamosa (CC BY-SA 4.0)
It used to be that, given the physical demands of English football, that stature, size and a presence to match were what managers looked for in an anchorman. In Gunners terms, think of Patrick Vieira and Gilberto Silva – 6ft plus with strength and power.
Leicester City winning the Premier League changed perceptions of what a defensive midfielder looked like. Shielding the Foxes’ back four was N’Golo Kante – a player who would go on to win the PFA Player of the Year award when he followed-up with another title success at Chelsea – a diminutive but tactically aware player whose positional sense and tenacity won out over bigger opponents.
Just like his France international counterpart, Torreira is 5ft 6in and willing to get stuck in to the less glamorous work on the pitch. For evidence of that, see his all-action midfield display as Uruguay dumped Euro 2016 winners Portugal out of the World Cup in the first knockout round.
He’s not going to bully the opposition like Vieria or Gilberto in their pomp, but instead harasses them through relentlessness that forces mistakes. The kind of effort Torreira put in against Portugal left him an unsung hero as two-goal Edinson Cavani grabbed the headlines.
Change of tack
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Stylistically complementing the existing Arsenal midfield options like more physical pair Mohamed Elneny and Granit Xhaka, the driving force that is Aaron Ramsey and mercurial playmaking abilities of Mesut Ozil, Torreira would give Emery options.
N’Zonzi by contrast is more of the same in a traditional holding sense and wouldn’t add anything other than extra height to the team. A low centre of gravity may also afford Torreira an advantage in the Premier League if he is up to the physical challenge.
Based on his World Cup performances and Serie A outings for Genoa side Sampdoria, he should have all the attributes to adapt to English football. Torreira’s willingness to put his body on the line and make timely tackles stands him in good stead.
He certainly looks like being a fixture in Uruguay’s setup for years to come alongside fellow Italian football export Rodrigo Bentancur, who has made his own case for more regular involvement at dominant Serie A champions Juventus.