Arsenal looked like a team on a free fall the longer Arsene Wenger stayed at the dugout. When perpetual Champions League qualification suddenly became unreachable, it was clear a change had become not only vital but necessary for the club to move forward.
The man in the middle of the storm offered to step aside in the summer. His departure brought mixed emotions for many club faithful. While grateful for his long service to the club, they felt he had overstayed his welcome.
Enter Unai Emery.
The Spaniard made a name for himself as Sevilla manager. He led the team to dominate the Europa League winning the competition back-to-back. Paris Saint-Germain gave him the opportunity to finally win a league title as the top Spanish giants held La Liga hostage. But he could not make any mark in Europe with the Paris-based club in his two seasons in charge. He had to leave.
Arsenal made an unexpected approach for his services and he promptly obliged. Time for the next chapter. But he needed to overhaul the squad to challenge for a top four place much more win trophies. Players like Stephan Lichtsteiner and Sokratis Papastathopoulos were recruited to shore up the club’s much maligned defence while Matteo Guendouzi and Lucas Torreira were brought in to fix the loopholes in the midfield.
German goalkeeper Bernd Leno was also secured to provide competition for the ageing Petr Cech while the the manager counted on the superb Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette to provide enough firepower upfront. Despite an early stutter in the first two league matches, the side has stood up to be counted.
The team embarked on a 22-game unbeaten run in all competitions that was surprisingly ended by struggling Southampton in a sensational 3-2 loss last week. In that time several players distinguished themselves. Aubameyang ties with Mohamed Salah as the leading goalscorer in the league with 10 strikes in 17 games. Lacazette has also been doing great.
Leno stepped in to replace injured Cech earlier in the campaign and has been exceptional. But it’s Torreira that has been most outstanding in the team.
Yes, there are other new signings that have been impressive for their clubs. Alisson Becker has been great for Liverpool. Jurgen Klopp described his save toward the end of the match against Napoli that saw the club progress to the next round of the competition as a life saver. Xherdan Shaqiri has been a revelation. Naby Keita and Fabinho are becoming more and more influential for the Merseysiders.
Riyad Mahrez is scoring goals for Manchester City. Jorginho has been a pivot in Maurizio Sarri’s midfield at Chelsea. Salomon Rondon is banging in the goals for Newcastle United, Rui Patricio and Joao Moutinho are helping Wolves make a strong return to the Premier League, Anderson is redeeming his image at West Ham as Richarlison and André Gomes are doing well at Everton.
Yet, Torreira must be recognised as the signing of the summer so far. The Uruguayan has been the fulcrum for the Arsenal side since he was installed in the team. Not only does the 22-year-old put in the necessary tackles to break up opposition play, his passing and all-round play is top-notch.
And then there is the added benefit of scoring goals. Recently, his derby goal against Tottenham killed off the tie to give the team a deserved 4-2 victory. But he stepped up again to score the only goal with a superb overhead kick as the team laboured to a 1-0 win against Huddersfield.
From defensive contributions to commanding the midfield and stepping up to score when necessary, the former Sampdoria man has proven he is the best signing of the summer in the league. No wonder transfer rumours are beginning to emerge of interest from other top European sides. Arsenal should do everything necessary to hold on to their man.