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Lucas Torreira: Meet Arsenal's new midfielder who tackled Ronaldo with his face

Midway through the second half of Uruguay’s World Cup round-of-16 match with Portugal, with the South Americans desperately defending their 2-1 lead, it looked as if Cristiano Ronaldo would pick up possession on the edge of the penalty area with the chance of a shot at goal.

New Arsenal signing Lucas Torreira had other ideas.

Despite lying prostrate on the floor, he flung his body towards the ball and just about managed to make contact with it, using the side of his head to steal it off Ronaldo’s toe.

It was a stunning show of commitment to the cause, of desire to win whatever the cost to his own physical wellbeing. It was a perfect demonstration of why Uruguay, a nation of just over three million people, consistently punch so far above their weight in international football.

That game was only Torreira’s third start for Uruguay – before the World Cup he had made just three substitute appearances in friendlies – but he already showed full understanding of what it means to pull on the sky-blue shirt.

And more importantly for Arsenal fans, he gave them a taste of exactly what it is he will bring to the Emirates next season.

In Torreira’s homeland, they call that sort of attitude Garra Charrua, a reference to the indomitable warrior spirit of the native Charrua people who lived on the land before the arrival of European settlers.

Upon his presentation in north London, the man signed from Sampdoria for £22m was asked to define exactly what Garra Charrua is.

“It is a way of living football,” he replied, “it is the way all Uruguayans grow up, it is the way we play football in our neighbourhoods.”

“We give all we have to our football,” he added, “our jersey and our country. We do our best because every time we go on the pitch we represent our family and friends, the most important people for us.”

Those words will be like music to the ears of Gunners fans. Since the departure of Gilberto Silva in 2008, the team has not had a midfielder like Torreira, who will diligently protect the back four, providing defensive balance and using all of his force and energy to do the work that means other, more creative players can shine.

Physically, Torreira is a long way from Silva or his predecessor, Patrick Vieira, coming in at just 5’6'. But what he lacks in stature he makes up for with determination, tenacity and a surprisingly mature understanding of the game for a player who is just 22 years old.

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Torreira grew up in the town of Fray Bentos, a place more famous for its canned meat than its football, where he played for local amateur side Institucion Atletica 18 de Julio.

Despite now playing for one the world’s biggest clubs, he remains close to his roots, and after travelling to London to sign his contract he made the most of his holidays to return to the place where it all started and pay homage to those who helped him on the way up.

From his humble beginnings in Fray Bentos, he first went to Montevideo Wanderers, a professional club from the Uruguayan capital, before moving on to the east coast of Italy whilst still a teenager to play in Pescara’s youth sides.

Shortly after making his first-team debut, he was bought by Sampdoria but immediately loaned back to Pescara for their Serie B campaign. During this spell, he made huge strides, adding Italian positional intelligence to his Uruguayan Garra.

According to Marcello Donatelli, Pescara’s assistant manager at the time, "[Torreira] has always been strong in understanding those defensive tactical aspects and he is very mature tactically in terms of how he reads the game.”

Speaking to Sky Sports, Donatelli continued, “He can cope with the gaps that emerge in midfield with great intelligence and he covers very well.

"He is the one who corrects the spaces and cuts out the passes between the lines in the defensive phase. After Sergio Busquets, he is tactically the strongest midfielder in Europe."

Incredibly high praise from a man who watched his development up close.

Owing to that intelligence, and his formative years in a more attacking role, Torreira is also able to see the game unfolding ahead of him when he has the ball and can pick out his fellow midfielders with accurate short and long-range passes.

To complete the skill set, he also has a wicked shot, as he proved with a pile-driver of a free-kick in a game against Chievo last year.

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Despite his limited number of international appearances prior to the World Cup, his performances for Sampdoria last term gave Uruguay manager Oscar Tabarez no choice but to include him in his squad for Russia. And Torreira repaid his coach’s faith.

After starting the first two group games on the bench, he came into the team for the third tie against Russia and immediately made La Celeste look a better, more balanced unit.

In the same way that he will this season at Arsenal, Torreira allowed the other midfielders and full-backs to push forward, safe in the knowledge that he was there to protect the centre-halves.

Signing the Uruguayan at the exact moment that Jack Wilshere has been allowed to leave the club perhaps also signals a change in the style of football that will be witnessed at the Emirates from now on.

New manager Unai Emery will look to play at a higher tempo going forward. Torreira’s energy and ability to anticipate opposition moves will, in turn, permit his team-mates to press the ball higher up the pitch when they are out of possession.

Torreira has all the necessary attributes to endear himself to those on the terraces in the red half of north London, especially those old enough to remember the pre-Wenger hardmen that patrolled the Highbury pitch.

Slide tackling the world’s best footballer with your face is probably not advisable, but if Torreira is called upon to do anything similar next season, you can be sure he will.

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