Arsenal had lacked a quality defensive midfielder for years until Lucas Torreira was signed from Sampdoria. The Uruguayan had a stellar season in Italy and stood out at the World Cup with his intelligent positioning and dogged attitude towards defending. He was the club’s most exciting signing this summer by a distance.
That he started on the bench for their first three games surprised many. Granit Xhaka retained his place, while it was 19-year-old Matteo Guendouzi who was selected as his partner. While the teenager has impressed, Xhaka’s deficiencies remain a concern.
The Swiss midfielder is one the best passers in the side and possesses a fierce long-range shot that occasionally produces exciting results. However, his tendency to foul the opposition after missing a tackle and the ease with which he’s played around means he’s a risky player.
The lack of defensive stability in midfield came to the fore again against West Ham, but was mitigated by the introduction of Torreira.
Torriera has a positional sense and discipline that no other midfielder in the Arsenal squad has. Emery will feel he has several options to form his midfield with, but at this point it surely must be Torreira plus one more. The very balance of the side could depend on it.
However, this has been a doubled-edged sword. Bellerin’s attacking duties leave Arsenal vulnerable in the right back zone and both Chelsea and West Ham have already exploited that.
The solution may be to rein Bellerin in, but this would take away one of their more potent attacking options. Calls for Stephan Lichtsteiner to play instead are understandable, but the Swiss must also provide left back cover after the injuries to Sead Kolasinac and Ainsley Maitland-Niles.
It has to be up to the rest of the team to cover the space, starting with the midfield. It was interesting that Guendouzi was subbed at half-time against West Ham instead of Xhaka. This suggests that the Frenchman hadn’t done a good enough job protecting the defence. His replacement, Lucas Torreira, did a much better job securing that part of the pitch.
There will always be risk involved with flying full backs, but the inclusion of Torreira from now on seems a no-brainer.