Is Unai Emery turning Arsenal back into Premier League title contenders?

Is Emery turning Arsenal back into Premier League title contenders?

10/07/2018 at 18:42Updated 10/07/2018 at 19:01

Arsenal have confirmed the signing of Lucas Torreira from Sampdoria for a reported £26m, and while the Uruguay international's arrival was somewhat upstaged by another major deal on Tuesday, the switch could have a far more enduring impact, writes Ben Grounds.

Gunners supporters were so eager for the club to announce the Torreira signing that they resorted to tracking his flight to London, but they didn't have to wait much longer. Grit and a splash of cynicism has deserted Arsenal at crucial moments in Champions League knockout contests and at the homes of top six rivals in recent years.

In Uruguay, the word 'garra' has been associated with Torreira - who admits his lion tattoo on his upper right arm represents the "strength and spirit we Uruguayans have inside" - but it is his versatility that has alerted the attention of Unai Emery.

“We have signed a young player who is a very bright talent in the game," said the new Arsenal boss. "A midfielder with great quality, I have enjoyed watching his performances for Sampdoria in the past two seasons, and we all saw him do very well for Uruguay in the World Cup. He is a young player already with good experience, but who wants to keep on growing. We welcome Lucas to Arsenal and look forward to him joining us soon for pre-season.”

The tenacious midfielder has signed a five-year deal and it is believed to be the last piece of major investment from the north London club during an exceptional summer.

Emery's glowing endorsement of the transfer suggests he has had his eyes on the player for some time, with Arsenal's need for a stronger backbone evident during their gradual decline under the old guard.

Jack Wilshere has been allowed to leave the club, paving the way for Torreira's arrival. His many technical qualities are not restricted to destructing the rhythm of the opposition with him winning the sixth highest number of fouls for his team in Serie A last season (63).

Diminutive is size but big in stature, he impressed last season in Italy, ranking third overall for tackles made (101), sixth for interceptions (72) and ninth for the number of passes completed (2188). Indeed, he has won more tackles (198) than any other player in the Italian top flight since making his debut in 2016/17.

The pocket-sized dynamo is composed on the ball and has developed a reputation for his long-range passing and free-kick taking. Torreira was an inspirational member of Oscar Tabarez's Uruguay side that reached the World Cup quarter-finals, and the signing is likely to provide the likes of Granit Xhaka and Aaron Ramsey greater licence to roam forward, freed from the shackles of any defensive duties.

Some Arsenal fans have reacted to the news that he will wear the No 11 vacated by Mesut Ozil - who has taken the No 10 shirt - with a mixed response, but it should be the least of their concerns.

The 22-year-old is very much for the immediate term and with youngster Matteo Guendouzi also set to complete his move to the Emirates from Lorient, Arsenal's summer spending on five players will amount to £71m - not bad business in the current market.

Prior to a deal being struck, it was widely reported that Emery would have this precise transfer budget at his disposal. While uncertainty lingers at Chelsea, Arsenal's other top six rivals have a wealth of stars still featuring at the World Cup.

Nine of Mauricio Pochettino's Tottenham squad are still representing their respective countries in Russia - before they begin the adaptation process at their new stadium - while both Manchester clubs have seven players who are yet to go on holiday.

Lucas Torreira will bring added steel to the Arsenal midfield

Lucas Torreira will bring added steel to the Arsenal midfieldGetty Images

The former Paris-Saint Germain boss has been busy in the transfer window already, signing Borussia Dortmund defender Sokratis Papastathopoulos for £17.6m, free agent right-back Stefan Lichtsteiner and Bayer Leverkusen goalkeeper Bernd Leno for £19m.

It has been a quietly productive start for the Spaniard, who has been at the club for just 49 days. Many fans who had grown disillusioned under Arsene Wenger pointed to the need for a new goalkeeper, right-back, centre-back and defensive midfielder when the curtain came down on the Frenchman's two-sided 22-year reign.

He has eased those doubts before a ball has even been kicked, and will now look for Torreira to bring the warrior-like spirit that caught the eye of onlookers at the World Cup.

Bernd Leno arrived for £19m from Leverkusen

Bernd Leno arrived for £19m from LeverkusenGetty Images

But head of recruitment Sven Mislintat, chief contract negotiator Huss Fahmy and head of football relations Raul Sanllehi deserve immense credit for conducting the majority of their transfer business in early pre-season.

This refreshing change of tact is precisely what Arsenal need if they are to return to the top table ahead of a second season outside of the Champions League.

Torreira's signing has shifted expectations among fans heading into a new era that a top-four finish is now the minimum requirement in Emery's first season in charge. The arrival of a world class defensive midfielder could be the final piece in the jigsaw.