Occam’s Razor is the philosophical principle that the simplest solution to any problem is usually the correct one.
For Arsenal, that problem – perhaps their longest standing of many – has been the inability to field a consistently competent and sturdy midfield. It has been some 10 years since Gilberto Silva departed North London and none have come close to replicating the calming yet bold influence of the Brazilian. There have been some pretenders to his defensive midfield throne, but ultimately the likes of Alex Song (too ill-disciplined), Mathieu Flamini and Francis Coquelin (both too limited) have been and gone without offering enough for what this midfield has so sorely needed, which has remained at times as shaky and flimsy as Tottenham’s much neglected trophy cabinet. The solution to the central midfield problem has remained depressingly out of grasp.
Perhaps it should be of no surprise to anyone then that once the club finally moved to bring in a player who offers the qualities this side has so sorely lacked for so long – dynamism and discipline, strength in the tackle and a cool head to distribute the ball effectively – the centre of the Emirates pitch has looked as secure as it has done for some time. The solution to that decade-long problem looks to be Lucas Torreira, a man who has looked every bit the player who the fans desperately hoped he was when he moved from Sampdoria in the summer. A player of his ilk is one the side has needed for years, the fans argued, and so far he looks to have proved them right. How wonderful a thing it is when a player lives up to the hype.
Merely possessing the qualities needed is one thing; being able to implement those qualities regularly in a new team in a new league is another, and even if Torreira’s skillset looked to be a perfect addition to this Arsenal midfield he deserves immense credit for the way he has applied himself in these opening months of the season. It is easy to forget that the Uruguayan did not make his first start for the club for some weeks, perhaps mainly due to Unai Emery still figuring out who deserved regular runs in his new side at the start of his own Arsenal career, but once he begun starting games Torreira has never looked like missing out. Few players in the Premier League are able to blend his pitbull-like chasing and tackling with a keen eye for a pass and competent sense of positioning, and when you possess a player like him in your ranks you don’t ever want to see him missing from your starting eleven.
Arsenal fans might have been enjoying Torreira’s performances for a few weeks now but it was his performance against Liverpool on Saturday evening that may have made the rest of the Premier League really sit up and take notice. The little man was everywhere, from picking the ball up deep to trying to start attacking plays from further upfield, all whilst never letting the Liverpool midfield a moment’s peace whenever a loose ball or chance to regain possession presented itself. For too long Arsenal has felt like a team easily bullied by the division’s bigger boys, and whilst one player alone cannot change the habit of what has felt like a lifetime, Torreira’s influence has been greater than any other’s. The 1-1 scoreline was probably a fair result, but there’s little doubt that Arsenal comfortably won the midfield battle – when was the last time anyone could say that about the Gunners in such a big game? Perhaps it has not been since Francis Coquelin and Santi Cazorla put in a scintillating display at the Etihad back in January 2015 in a shock 2-0 win, although that ultimately proved to be a false dawn as opposed to a new beginning.
The influence a player like Torreira can have on a team cannot be understated, and you only have to look at the aforementioned Gilberto Silva and his role in the Invincibles’ side as a clear example. The attack that side boasted was the best in the club’s history, but without him anchoring the midfield the likes of Pires, Henry and Bergkamp could not attack with such freedom. A world class defence helped too, of course, but they themselves were offered a level of protection no Arsenal backline has seen since. The likes of Rob Holding and Shkodran Mustafi were excellent at Emirates Stadium on Saturday, but in the long term they will need Torreira to continue this form if they’re to help this side keep clean sheets and win games.
No other player has benefitted as much from Torreira’s arrival, though, as Granit Xhaka, a man who’s weaknesses are minimised with such a player alongside him. No longer the midfielder with the most defensive responsibility in this team, the Swiss can now focus more on linking play and making more use out of his passing prowess in advanced positions without the feeling that he’s leaving the defence as exposed as he often has done in the past. The Arsenal midfield finally feels balanced.
It’s been a long time coming but Arsenal look to finally have found a solution to their most frustrating of problems, and whilst Lucas Torreira may only be one man out of eleven who wears the red and white during any given game, he’s the engine that keeps the train moving forward and onto its desired destination. Greater tests will surely come and he’ll need to prove he can perform as he did against Liverpool on plenty more occasions, but after yearning for a player like him for so long Arsenal fans are surely allowed to enjoy every moment of Lucas Torreira on a football pitch to their heart’s content.