When it comes to registering centre-backs, Arsenal do not exactly have a stellar record lately. Rob Holding and Konstantinos Mavropanos frequently Hurt. And David Luiz was… well, David Luiz.
William Saliba, signed from Saint-Étienne but loaned back to the Ligue 1 side, could buck this trend but he will not arrive in the Emirates until next year.
And perhaps that’s why Arsenal continue to be connected with central defenders on an almost weekly basis.
The 22-year-old spent last season on loan at Malaga in the Spanish second grade but returned to El Submarino Amarillo in the summer and was prepared to nail down a place in the first group. He has done just that.
Torres has finished 90 minutes in all Villarreal’s 13 LaLiga matches this term and his variant caused a senior global call-up in October and a La Roja debut off the bench in November against Malta, a game in which he scored.
This rapid progress hasn’t gone unnoticed. Manchester City has noticed Torres this year and Real Madrid, Barcelona, and Chelsea have all been linked. Yet it is Arsenal whose interest is strongest and the north London club aren’t put off from the guardian’s £43m buyout clause.
And, by some distance, their priciest defender. But the major question is if a centre-back with fewer than 25 LaLiga looks to his name is worth this outlay.
1 person who’s convinced is Santi Cazorla. The former Gunners maestro is a team-mate of Torres in Villarreal and allegedly called Unai Emery to urge the defender.
What’s Torres the real thing? Well, it is never easy to judge central defenders. Their outcome is arguably more affected by the requirements of a trainer and the strength of the side than any other place.
At Villarreal, that are in midtable in LaLiga this period, Torres will inevitably be kept occupied.
This season he’s averaging 4.54 clearances per 90 and is regaining ownership in the defensive third on 4.23 events per 90. That puts him among the top twenty defenders in the Spanish top flight in these respective fields.
What stands out, however, is he’s out the top 150 defenders for tackles earned per 90 (0.77) and interceptions per 90 (0.62).
He seldom dives into challenges and instead opts to push forward away from target and shutdown strikes through intelligent positioning. When needed, however, he’s ready to use his body, and it has averaged 0.85 blocked shots per 90, a figure bettered by just 21 LaLiga defenders.
He’s comfortable playing out in the trunk or bringing the ball forward into midfield to begin strikes, something Emery has demanded of his centre-backs.
He’s averaging 50.39 finished passes per 90 this term and 21.69 of them go forward. Furthermore impressive, however, is his array of passing off his left foot. In LaLiga this year Torres is finishing 7.62 long passes which finish in the last third, the 18th-most one of defenders.
This capacity can turn defence into attack in an instant. Torres can open up a profound block with cross field passes or start a fast counter from deeper areas with a raking pass. Nicolas Pépé and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang could surely benefit from the latter situation.
It is clear the Villarreal No.4 has plenty of potential, and he should only get better with more experience. He’s also good enough to slot into the Gunners’ back four when January.
Yet that does not mean that the Premier League giants must bring him into the Emirates when the transfer window reopens. Arsenal’s defence this year is an unforgiving environment. If Emery was going to sign Torres, put him directly into the group, and then watch him fight, it may damage his development and harm his confidence.
The intelligent move — though Arsenal fans may disagree — is to mirror the deal done with Saint-Étienne for Saliba. Sign the defender in January but let him remain in Spain before the summer.
He would then receive an entire period of first-team football under his belt and have the time to get ready for a move overseas, a life-changing procedure that’s often overlooked.
He’s a hometown boy. “I wish I could play here all my livelihood. It’s the club of my life,” he advised Super Deporte in the summertime. It won’t be easy for him to move away but he’s too talented for Villarreal to keep for the near future.
Arsenal can make the most. And if the club were to begin next season with Saliba and Torres in their side, a place of weakness will have turned into one of excellent strength.