This past Monday, Arsenal put on a scintillating display against Leicester City (LCFC), extending their unbeaten streak to 10 games with a 3-1 win at Emirates Stadium. On full display were Mesut Ozil’s mastery of touch, skill, and spacing along with Alex Iwobi’s burgeoning form and confidence under new manager Unai Emery. Each of the three goals were worthy of Arsenal’s “Greatest Hits” collection.
However, before any of these goals came to fruition, there was a critical period for Arsenal after LCFC had scored off a great run by Ben Chillwell (who was tasked with a dual-role of leftback while in defense and extra midfielder during possession) in which Arsenal were pushing forward for the equalizer and LCFC soaking up pressure, waiting to spring the counter.
During that period, the importance of Lucas Torreira and his unique combination of abilities – read and react, composure, speed, skill and balance – were on full display. I’ve chosen three plays during that critical stretch to highlight those qualities.
The first play came in the 36th minute, roll the film!
Leicester is trying to get this ball out of their defensive third and here comes Torreira speeding into the screen from his spot in central midfield to quickly win the ball back and transition immediately back into attack. It’s a great example of his ability to read and react (I call this “mental speed”), use his physical speed to close the gap, and then utilize his excellent balance and feet to take the ball away. His skills as a former winger were on full display.
The second play was arguably the most important of the game. A terrible midfield turnover (can you guess by who?) that puts the Arsenal defense into an immediate high risk situation against a team who has been looking to counter but Torreira diagnoses immediately and nullifies it:
Let’s take a frame by frame closer look.
A. When the ball is played forwards towards the center circle, Torreira immediately flows to the ball to close off that space and support his backline:
B. Following a one touch back pass, Torreira turns, reads the situation instantly, and immediately drives towards the ball to close down the space and passing channel. If there’s any hesitation, there’s acres of space for the lightning fast Jamie Vardy who has been itching for such a chance and is eating up the cushion quickly between himself and the nearest defender:
C. Torreira times his challenge beautifully and deflects the through lob. Red alert situation averted, Arsenal back on the front foot in their quest to take back control of the game:
The third play took place a little over a minute later when Torreira immediately read a redirected ball, darted to the inside of Leicester’s James Maddison, and baited him into a foul – setting up a free kick deep in Leicester’s defensive third and not allowing any reprieve against Arsenal’s continued pressure to equalize before the half:
Yet another example of Torreira’s incredible read and react ability, composure, and physical speed.
Arsenal went on to level before the half on a great goal by Mesut Ozil and were dominant in the second half after what I’m sure had to be a rousing halftime speech by Unai Emery. However, if not for Torreira’s play during this critical juncture of the game, the hill may have been much steeper.
It’s clear Lucas Torreira is the defensive lynchpin on this Arsenal team, unlocking Emery’s vision of a high press team with sidebacks pushed forward in possession. He’s able to clean up mistakes and negate subsequent high risk situations which have hurt Arsenal so many times in recent years, has given the Arsenal centerbacks a reliable & disciplined cover in front of them, turns the opposition over quickly with his relentless pressing, and when needed, pins them back into their own zone.
His unique background as a winger converted to a holding midfield gives him a versatile skillset that unlocks so much of the game for his teammates, allowing them to focus on their specific roles and play within their comfort zones. He’s the key to the Arsenal cannon and that was on full display at Emirates Stadium on Monday.