The recent games between Arsenal and Tottenham haven’t depended on any single theme, nor did they really comform to one definitive pattern. One troubling detail, at least from an Arsenal perspective, has been their opponents’ physical advantage in this fixture. They’ve had the technique and finesse to compete, but – with the exception of last year’s 2-0 at The Emirates – they’ve been overpowered far too often.
Lucas Torreira isn’t a complete solution to that problem, but he’s a partial response to it.
When he arrived in this country, the Uruguayan was erroneously tagged as a stopper. He certainly has that nuggety quality to his game, but it shouldn’t be recognised at the expense of his more expressive side. He’s a fine passer and, in time, his ball-striking ability suggests that he’ll also become a goal threat. He’s already very popular. The Arsenal supporters chant his name to the old Patrick Vieira song and, while that may be premature, there’s a breadth to his game which stands vague comparison.
On Sunday, the whole package is relevant. A broader, more technical analysis suggests that his ability to screen a fragile defence will be very important, so too his tendency to disrupt Tottenham’s passing flow in midfield and obstruct the rhythm they require to create chances. He doesn’t just sit in front of his centre-halves, instead pressing the ball all over the middle third of the pitch and, when his side have possession, his receiving and recycling of passes (against an opponent who will employ a high press) will be vital.
Perhaps most importantly, though, he will bring a level of combatism to an Arsenal side which, in recent years, has been much too docile. That isn’t to say that derby games should be all studs, elbows and x-rated tackles, but there’s a clear sense that Tottenham see their opponents as a soft touch, a team who can be stampeded over and who, ultimately, will cower at the first suggestion of hostility. Dier, Alli, Vertonghen, Alderweireld, Lamela; there’s a shared edge to that group and it generally tends to appear in this sort of game. It did against Chelsea and, ultimately, it set a tone which accentuated Spurs’ superiority throughout their 3-1 win.
But when was the last time an Arsenal player scythed through a Tottenham player? Who was the last one of Pochettino’s players to have his bones properly rattled in this game? It would be ludicrously anachronistic to claim that as the sole basis upon which derby matches are won and lost, but then equally disingenuous to pretend that it isn’t relevant at all – or that, as a consequence, the players and personalities Arsenal have fielded over the past few years have put them at a disadvantage.
In that context, Torreira is a very important figure. It’s far too much of a South American cliche to claim that as his only attribute, he’s really a very fine player who – seemingly – was undersold by Sampdoria. But this weekend his darker attributes might be the most relevant. First Arsenal have to rise to Spurs’ challenge, then they have to overcome it: Torreira is key to both.