While the return to action has brought mixed fortunes for Arsenal, one thing it has done is provide Mikel Arteta with a chance to identify his best team ahead of the 2020/21 season.
Defeats to Manchester City and Brighton and Hove Albion have left the Gunners needing a miracle to secure Champions League football next season, and with less at stake in the league there could be an opportunity for Arteta to figure out a midfield combination to serve the team well beyond the current campaign.
However, as one former Arsenal central midfielder begins to shape a squad in his image, there’s a risk that another could be left behind.
Lucas Torreira is one of the players who was expected to get a real chance to reassert himself under Arteta.
After impressing at the start of his Arsenal career, the Uruguay midfielder found himself in and out of the team under Unai Emery, with question marks over just why he wasn’t able to turn himself into the undroppable midfielder he once looked like being.
To begin with, he did just that, starting Arteta’s first six league games in charge. Then he began making appearances from the bench. Then he was stretchered off early in the FA Cup win at Portsmouth in March. He hasn’t played since, and has only recently returned to training.
Arteta has experimented with partnerships and formations since the return of English football in June, but he can only work with the players available to him. If he settles on a system that works for those players, but not for Torreira, what happens then?
Arsenal have a number of big questions when it comes to the future of their star attackers and the future of their defensive shape, but the midfield issue is arguably a bigger challenge than either.
Matteo Guendouzi and Mesut Ozil, two others to receive a fair bit of game time at opposite ends of Arteta’s brief tenure to date, both look in danger of being sold or just outright exiled. Neither was in the 20-man squad for Saturday’s FA Cup win at Sheffield United, though in the case of the young Frenchman – the more saleable asset of the two – it may have been intended as a warning rather than an outright banishment.
Meanwhile, Dani Ceballos, who came off the bench to score Arsenal’s winning goal at Bramall Lane, is not necessarily going to stay in north London beyond this season. To build a structure around such a player without reassurances of a long-term future makes little sense.
Arsenal continue to keep an eye on Thomas Partey, and the logical approach to that end would be delivering a system into which the Ghanaian can slot with little difficulty, but Torreira’s future within whatever Arteta’s midfield 2.0 looks like is a little less defined.
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