Lucas Torreira is set to miss the rest of the season for Arsenal due to an ankle injury on the last game of FA cup win against Portsmouth, unless the suspension of the league due to COVID-19 allows him to recover for the last games.
In this tactical analysis piece, we will examine Torreira’s key attributes and his role in Arsenal’s tactics. He has the Uruguayan defending style: aggressive and tough, and he also adds some in-possession attributes that make a perfect combination for a midfielder. Even though Dani Ceballos and Granit Xhaka have been the chosen ones to start as central midfielders for Mikel Arteta in the last Premier League games, he will greatly miss the Uruguayan player for the end of the season in their objective of gaining a spot into the Champions League.
We will be analysing and supporting through stats and pictures this mixture of a highly defensive midfielder with a delighting in-possession playing style. Before entering into further analysis, we have some stats to support his playing style: passing accuracy of 88.7% and 54.6% of defensive duels won.
The Gunner’s formation of 4-4-2 or 4-2-3-1 uses Torreira as one of the two central midfielders, positioning him on the right. In the picture below, we can see his positioning on the right side of Mattéo Guendouzi.
If needed, he could play as the only central midfielder due to his great football conditioning, adding another advanced midfielder. This position was used for example on the last game for the Europa League in which Arteta sent him to the field in the second half as the only defensive midfielder, allowing the team to have more players in the advanced positions. This has also been his position for the Uruguayan team in the last World Cup, but in this case he was playing with two extra defensive midfielders at his sides.
Lastly, we could also see him playing in a more advanced midfielder position, always playing centrally but in between the opposition midfielder and defensive line. The example is shown in the next picture, and the benefit of using Torreira on this position is that as we are going to analyse later, is that he has a high pace to transition into defensive positions. So whilst positioned in an advanced position and if the ball is lost, he could quickly recover and position himself next to the other defensive midfielder.
In conclusion, he is more of a defensive midfielder in terms of positioning. Since his arrival to Arsenal under Unai Emery, he has been used to play most of the time with a second holding midfielder, positioning himself on the right side. This could be seen in the following picture, with a heatmap of their most frequent positioning on the field.
Playing against Torreira as an opponent, you will never feel comfortable or have space playing near his range. Even more, if you think of outplaying him, you will have to make it twice because his pace to recover from a dribble is great, as this is reflected in the next picture in which he has been dribbled by Everton’s player Bernard and he then easily recovers winning the ball.
The last and most important attribute to sum up his Uruguayan defensive style is his willingness to win the ball – as soon as the ball is lost, he will be ready to recover it and do all that’s needed to do it. We can even see this in the Uruguayan strikers, Suarez and Cavani, who are always able to help defend and are willing to recover the ball ASAP.
Three triggers make him press the opponent instantly: these are the opponent’s body positioning looking back, when the ball is difficult to control by the opponent, and when transitioning after losing the ball in the rival’s defensive zone. The next picture shows the game against Portsmouth in which the ball is received bouncing on the middle third. Torreira is positioned far from the receiver, sprinted and recovered the ball.
The following picture shows the first two triggers in the same play, the ball bouncing which is not easy to control and the Newcastle midfielder receiving the ball facing backwards, which triggers Torreira to sprint into Newcastle player winning the ball back.
The next two pictures show how the third triggers work for Torreira when the ball is lost on the opposite back third. When this happens near the rival’s box, we can see Torreira sprinting in a high tempo, pressing the rival receiving the ball and arriving even before the rival can control the ball. The first picture against Olympiacos in the Europa League game, and the second one in the Premier League win against Everton in which he ended with setting up Eddie Nketiah, who missed the goal.
The attribute to highlight from his defensive game is his willingness to recover the ball, something natural from Uruguay which makes him a unique player in the Premier League. His attitude to follow the play when defending, with great perseverance until the ball is recovered, is impressive overall. In the next sequence of pictures, we can see Torreira after not winning a duel in the left flank, continue to mark the next rival, forcing the Olympiacos wide player to lose the ball on the touchline.
Finally, another point to highlight from his defensive play is his fast recovery into defensive positions. Besides his defending transition being fast when pressing, the same can also be said when recovering into deep positions, and he does it with high pace, positioning as a defensive midfielder supporting the back-four. In the next sequence, we can distinguish this fast recovery, from the ball being lost in the midfield, and Everton centre-mid playing a long ball, we can see in the second picture how he easily positioned inside the box covering the cross.
Torreira’s in-possession playing style
What we have described before are required attributes for a defensive midfielder and is the reason why a lot of Gunners fans love the Uruguayan. But we can also see interesting things in this Arsenal player in ball possession which makes him a delightful midfielder to watch and someone to consider to play in a more advanced position. With his low height and his low centre of gravity, he has a quick turn that allows him to play the ball and switch from one flank to the other with a high tempo. In this first picture, we can see Torreira recovering the ball inside the own box and quickly turning forward to allow the team to counter-attack.
Also, he can use this attribute when combining in the midfield, he used to position on the centre or even on the left half and turn quickly under pressure to allow the ball to either switch or to penetrate lines. In the next picture, we can see this perfectly against Burnley for the Premier League. He receives the ball in the central lane and turns fast under pressure. This fast turn allows him two options: penetrate through the central lane or look for the isolated wing on the right. This position and fast turn allow Arsenal two major strategies to create advanced actions that are: switch and slice or overload and isolate. His technique on these passes is excellent and is reflected on this 2019/20 Premier League stats, having an accuracy on passes to the final third of 77.6%.
Finally, to complete his in-possession attributes, his shooting must be remarked on too. In Sampdoria he used to be the one in charge of all the free kicks, even the corner kicks, scoring 4 goals in the last season. When defending for his national team, he was in charge of the free kicks there too. In the next picture, we can see his confidence from shooting from out of the box, deciding to shoot on a game against Southampton. Not scoring any goals out of the box this year is something to recover from his playing style, as his low accuracy on shooting on target reflects that: 37.5%.
Concluding this scout report, even though Arteta has not been starting Torreira since the last Premier League draw against Chelsea 2-2, the former Sampdoria midfielder is for sure going to be missed for Arsenal in the last part of the season. Being one of those central midfielders that has special attributes in possession, it makes him different. His defensive aggressiveness stats show that he has an average of 5.39 interceptions and 8.72 recoveries on the opposite half on average on 90 minutes
Playing in a much more advanced position when playing in the youth has given him that advanced midfielder attributes, which combined with the Uruguayan toughness to defend, makes him a great central midfielder. If he recovers and shows more of his in-possession attributes, he would end up being that midfielder that Arteta is needing.