Lucas Torreira was Arsenal’s most expensive signing of the summer. When on the pitch, he has been objectively and subjectively one of the best players on the pitch. So why has he yet to start a match under Unai Emery?
It certainly has not been his play. What has separated Matteo Guendouzi, who has started in his place?
When he was signed, he was hailed as the missing link for Arsenal—the long-awaited defensive midfielder. In his time on the pitch, he has been just that. Arsenal’s back line has been a bit haphazard so far. Oftentimes they need a last-ditch effort to prevent a goal. But every time Torreira comes on, things seem to calm down. His positional sense is second-to-none. He always knows just where to be. He fills in the gaps perfectly when Arsenal’s pressing system forces defenders out of position. As a result, he has 6 tackles and 5 interceptions in just 164 minutes (3.3 tackles and 2.75 interceptions per 90 minutes).
The stat that reflects his ability to slide deeper and assist the backline is his shots blocked per 90. In the Premier League, he has blocked 0.5 shots every 90 minutes, which is 17% of the team’s total despite being on the pitch less than half the time. In the World Cup for Uruguay, he blocked an astounding 1.8 shots and 0.9 crosses per 90.
The player starting ahead of him at the moment is Matteo Guendouzi. Though Torreira appears to be a more stabilizing option, Guendouzi has actually produced more tackles per 90 minutes (3.6) and interceptions (3.1). Unai Emery is much more trusting of advanced analytics than Arsene Wenger was. Perhaps this is what Emery is seeing when he selects Guendouzi over Torreira.
As far as shots blocked, Guendouzi only has 0.3 blocks per 90, reflecting his higher positioning. A defensive midfielder that starts further back would suit the team better with how shaky Arsenal’s defence has looked through the first 5 games.
Statistics, though useful, are not everything. Torreira seems to have a calming effect over the back line. Arsenal look and feel more stable with him on the pitch. Torreira appears the best defender to the eye. His rival for minutes appears the better defender on paper. Perhaps this is why Emery is splitting the minutes evenly.