LONDON: Lucas Torreira has been at Arsenal just a matter of months but the tough-tackling midfielder already looks like the kind of player the club has been missing for years.
The Uruguay international will make only his seventh Premier League start when Wolves visit the Emirates Stadium on Sunday, yet his importance to Unai Emery’s rapidly improving team is clear.
Operating in central midfield, Torreira has offered a combative presence, providing his back four with protection while his use of the ball has been similarly impressive.
Other players in Emery’s line-up may have provided more spectacular moments during the Gunners’ 15-game unbeaten run.
However, it is the contribution of Torreira and Granit Xhaka, transformed from the inconsistent player of recent seasons, that have given reason to believe this Arsenal side has the steel to sustain their early charge.
The pair have instilled a balance in the team that was lacking for long periods during the final years of Arsène Wenger’s reign.
Having built his early success in north London around a midfield led by Patrick Vieira, Wenger’s failure to resolve the apparent frailties of his later sides was at times baffling.
Gilberto Silva provided admirable service but since the Brazil international left for Panathinaikos 10 years ago, few players have shown themselves capable of filling what often appeared to be an obvious gap.
The arrival of Torreira in a £27-million (RM147 million) deal from Sampdoria this summer, however, appears to have ended the wait.
Emery eased the 22-year-old into his new life in English football, introducing the player from the bench for the first five league games, before deciding Torreira was up to speed.
His gritty performance in last weekend’s 1-1 draw with Liverpool confirmed he has settled into his new surroundings.
“You have to give credit to him because he’s someone who works hard, who wants to work hard and who shows that on the pitch as well,” said Arsenal defender Shkodran Mustafi.
“Against Liverpool he recovered a lot of balls, and that makes it not only easier for the defenders, but for the whole team.”
“I’ve changed a lot of leagues, a lot of countries myself and I know it’s not easy to settle in. I think he’s done it brilliantly well.”
The performance of Emery’s team against Liverpool strengthened the belief that they have a chance of emerging as genuine contenders in the Premier League title race.
Arsenal’s main priority is to return to the Champions League after missing out last season, and challenging at the top of the table would be an added bonus.
Performances have steadily improved and Emery’s impact is already being felt.
The next test is to maintain this form and the loss of England forward Danny Welbeck to a serious ankle injury this week will not help.
But Torreira has so far provided Arsenal with qualities they have been lacking and if the midfielder continues to perform as he has, the Gunners may have to review their targets as they head into the second half of the season.