Next season hasn’t even begun yet but Mikel Arteta already seems to have a problem going into it.
The Arsenal boss is set to be without four first team players after Thomas Partey, Mohamed Elneny, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Nicolas Pepe all helped their countries qualify for the African Cup of Nations which is set to take place in January 2022.
The Gunners are well stocked in the forward positions and will probably be able to rely upon the likes of Gabriel Martinelli, Willian and Bukayo Saka to get them through the absence of the latter pair.
In the middle of the park though it is a different story.
Matteo Guendouzi meanwhile will not be welcomed back after his falling out with Arteta last season despite his recent claims that he is still an Arsenal player and Dani Ceballos is set to return to Real Madrid at the end of his loan spell as things stand.
Hypothetically this could leave Granit Xhaka as the only fit central midfielder in the squad and although that is unlikely to happen the Gunners will be keen to look into potential solutions.
One option they could explore is bringing Lucas Torreira back in to the squad.
Things have not gone well for the Uruguayan in his loan spell at Atletico Madrid where he has started just three La Liga games, but reintegrating him into the team makes sense on a number of levels.
The first is of course the obvious AFCON stop gap.
Although Mikel Arteta did not deem there to be enough space in his squad for Torreira at the start of this season, it’s not as if he never rated the 25-year-old.
It’s easily forgotten that when the Spaniard first took over as manager in 2019, he started the diminutive Uruguayan in all six of his first Premier League matches.
A sudden surge in form from Dani Ceballos saw him lose his spot before an ankle fracture in a FA Cup match at Portsmouth saw him ruled out for most of the remainder of the season.
If it weren’t for that injury it’s highly likely that Torreira would have been a part of Arteta’s side after project restart, but an inability to regain his match sharpness meant that he never really made it back in to the first team picture.
This brings us nicely on to the second argument for Torreira to be welcomed back which is the footballing one.
Elneny looked out of the door at the beginning of this season after his loan spell at Besiktas, but Arteta has shown that he is willing to reintegrate returning loanees into his squad if the circumstances are right. By coming back from Atletico next season Torreira would ostensibly be following the same path.
On paper the pair share relatively similar skillsets, with the Uruguayan arguably being a slight upgrade on his Egyptian teammate.
Neither come close to the ball playing abilities of Thomas Partey in the middle of the park but both are tidy if unadventurous in possession.
This can be seen by comparing the progressive distance of their passing. In his first season at Arsenal – chosen due to the larger sample of games and his impressive early form – Torreira’s completed 87.5% of his passes which travelled an average of 239.9 yards towards the goal per match (as per fbRef).
Elneny on the other hand as a pass completion of 92.7% per 90 this season, but has averaged a progressive distance of just 214.4 yards.
When it comes to defensive output though this is where the Uruguayan excels.
He managed to win 1.74 tackles per 90 in 2018/19 compared to Elneny’s 0.58 this campaign and made 1.43 interceptions on average in a game vs the Egyptian’s 1.08.
Torreira’s boundless energy made him a useful pressing tool as well as he made 5.43 pressures per 90 in his first season, 2.42 of which came in the attacking third. As Arteta seeks to encourage his team to win the ball high up the pitch with the introduction of hard working attacking midfielders like Emile Smith Rowe and Martin Odegaard into the side, this could prove a very useful tactic.
By way of comparison Elneny has made just 3.42 pressures per 90 this season, of which just 1.92 have come in the opposition third.
This is not meant in any way to denigrate the Egyptian’s important contribution to the Arsenal side this season, but it’s clear to see what a fully fit Torreira can offer.
The last but by no means the least important factor to consider with the Uruguayan is the financial aspect to his potential return.
Arsenal did not insert an option to buy into his loan move to Atletico Madrid, which at the time seemed like a smart move as it didn’t force them to accept a lesser price for a player whose value was expected to go up after a season of regular La Liga football in a market that was hoped to not be too badly impacted by COVID-19.
As it has turned out though, coronavirus has lingered to impact the finances of more or less all clubs around the world, while Torreira’s value has only gone down due to his lack of game time.
With two years remaining on his deal the Gunners could look to sell this summer, but it would now likely be for a considerably lower fee than expected, and with central midfield options set to be relatively light due to the aforementioned circumstances, they would likely have to go out and buy a replacement.
Having announced losses of £47.8 million for the financial year letting players go for less than their maximum value is something Arsenal can ill-afford to do.
Arteta has admitted Torreira’s situation is one that he and Edu are keeping an eye on as the pair look to plan how they will form their squad next season.
“We have been talking to Lucas, Edu has been very close to the situation,” he said towards the end of the January window.
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“He hasn’t been playing as many minutes as he would like, as we would like, but to be fair the team is doing so well in Spain and it is understandable they don’t change the team so much.
“We just want to be right behind Lucas, protect him, help him make the right decisions for the future.”
Torreira is not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but for what Arsenal need in the short-term next season, he could be the ideal solution.