Lucas Torreira’s Premier League season so far:
Appearances: 16 – 11 starts, 5 substitute appearances.
Yellow cards: 4
Which of those stats sticks out most for you? For me it’s the bookings. One more and he’s suspended. One mistimed tackle, one foul a referee arbitrarily deems worthy of a card, and he misses a game. Ordinarily you’d say que sera, sera, and if it happens we deal with it, but when you have a game against Liverpool at Anfield on the horizon, do you have to have a good think about the situation?
One of the things I’ve enjoyed about life under Unai Emery is the increase in cynicism in the team. It’s not always there when it should be – the way we didn’t make a foul to stop Crystal Palace in the game at Selhurst Park, for example – but we’ve seen this team pick up bookings, clatter opponents, pull shirts and more and more to prevent the opposition creating moments of danger.
Sokratis, now suspended for our next game due to his 5th yellow card in 10 Premier League games, is the clear master of this. His performance against Sp*rs was a wonderful example of how you can nullify a very good striker – you get tight to him all over the pitch, get up his arse, don’t let him get near the ball however you manage to do that, and cut off the supply lines too. Kane didn’t have a kick beyond the penalty that was won with a dive.
There’s no question that Stephan Lichtsteiner, with his seven years at Juventus and his PHD in Advanced Shithousing from the University of Bastardry & Bolloxology, has had an impact too. There was a good interview with him and Hector Bellerin before the season began, and he said all the right things about how the right back position wasn’t Stephan versus Hector, it was Stephan and Hector for Arsenal, and I’ve seen little moments from Bellerin this season which lead me to believe that there’s some education going on. Fouls high up the pitch that disrupt the rhythm of our opponents but which mean we can regroup and get organised again. He’s like a fouling Yoda to Hector Skywalker.
I have to say I like things like this. In an ideal world football would be pure and you could win by being brilliant and playing gloriously every game, but that’s a fantasy. Sometimes you have to bend the rules to get what you want. Sometimes you have to break them – a foul is an offence against the rules let’s remember – but doing what it takes to win, without going too far over the various lines, is absolutely necessary.
So, how much of this is coming from Emery and his coaching staff? I have to say I look at his assistant, Juan Carlos Carcedo, and I can imagine him insisting that there’s a good time to make a foul and a bad time not to make one. I’m not saying he’s a ruthless sidekick who, if Emery were a crime lord, would do the boss man’s dirty work, get rid of the bodies and all that, but also that’s pretty much exactly what I’m saying.
The way the Spaniard prepares different scenarios in his mind for in-game situations speaks to an attention for detail that means he will surely be well aware of the potential for a Torreira suspension. Will he risk it and hope he gets through games against Southampton, Burnley and Brighton without a booking, or does he think about it in a more calculated way? A player in his first season in England, who puts in enormous effort in each game, heading into the kind of schedule he’s never faced before in his career having to play three games before going to the league leaders (at the time of writing). He could probably use a break, right?
If he’s booked naturally against Southampton, he misses Burnley. I mean, you’d rather have him in every game because he’s so good and made himself so integral, but you could probably live with that. If he’s not booked in that game, and we face Burnley on December 22nd at home, do you then consider the scenario where he picks up a tactical yellow card so he doesn’t go to Brighton on December 26th, and thus has a week of rest before we travel to Anfield?
I guess some people won’t like the idea, but it’s definitely something I’d be thinking about if I were Unai Emery. It’s not to take anything for granted about a trip to Brighton, rather an acknowledgement of the difficulty of playing Liverpool away, and I have to say I’d be very surprised if the Uruguayan didn’t pick up a booking in the next two games. Emery loves the details, and this is one he needs to have on his checklist as much as team selection, formation, what the opposition might do or anything else.
It’s a testament to how much of an impact the former Sampdoria man has had on this team that we’re even talking about something like this. That you instantly believe your team is stronger and better with a certain player in the team is a great feeling. It’s hard to explain, but down the years I could envisage the big games against the big teams and believe that if we had certain men on the pitch we had a better chance of a result – and this isn’t simply because of their footballing quality, which was obvious a part, but their character too.
For me, Torreira has become one of them. There are others who have genuine talent and ability, but lack something to be considered that kind of player, however much you might want them to be or however big their price tag and reputation are. I know it’s early days for him at Arsenal, and there’s always a need to be somewhat cautious, but there’s something effervescent about him, his character and the way he plays that makes you connect with him.
It’s easy to see why he’s become a favourite so quickly. Not only is he a very good player, as good on the ball as he is at doing the work of the DM everybody has wanted for so long, he’s got the spirit that allows him to translate that quality into something tangible at important moments. Being able to marry the willingness and desire with actual footballing ability is a wonderful combination.
How we manage him will be important too, which is why I suspect there might well be a training ground conversation which could result in an 84th minute yellow card for an obvious shirt tug or something like that. Because I think the feeling we have about being able to achieve results with certain people on the pitch is something the other players will be aware of, and they’d be sure to want him for the biggest game of this festive period. We’ll see what happens, I guess.
Ok, James and I will be recording the Arsecast Extra this morning. If you have any questions or topics for discussion, send to @gunnerblog and @arseblog on Twitter with the hashtag #arsecastextra. We should have it ready for you around mid-morning.
Until then, welcome to a brand new week.