Emery: Torreira taken off at halftime because ‘atmosphere was against him’

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Unai Emery has defended his decision to remove Lucas Torreira at halftime, noting both the game’s environment and a possible injury worry.

“I decided to do the change of Lucas Torreira because after the red card, the atmosphere is against him and also the doctor said to me in the first half that he has a little pain for Thursday and I decided okay, it’s the moment [to take him off],” Emery said following Arsenal’s 1-0 win over Watford.

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Torreira of course was the subject to Troy Deeney‘s elbow that earned Deeney a red card. The holding midfielder had a couple of fouls of his own, with the Watford supporters baying to the referee “off, off, off” asking for a red card. Emery may have felt that as the game went on, Torreira could go hard into a challenge and come out with a red card, and Arsenal needs Torreira healthy and active for future Premier League matches.

On the field, it didn’t seem that Torreira had an injury, but ahead of Arsenal’s crucial return leg against Napoli on Thursday, Emery appears to have decided it was better not to risk Torreira in the second half and instead play with Mesut Ozil in a more attacking formation. That way, Torreira should be good to go at Napoli. Ultimately, the move paid off, with Arsenal holding on to the 1-0 victory.

Since joining in July, Torreira has been a revelation, emerging as the holding midfielder that Arsenal has been missing for a decade or more. When healthy and in form, Torreira eats up opposition attacks, cutting down space all over the field. He’s even scored a goal or two, as seen in one of the North London derbies earlier this year.

From bad to worse: Watford give up rare goal, then Deeney is sent off

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In a one-minute, 38-second span, Watford’s expectations for its match against Arsenal were completely flipped on their head.

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First, goalkeeper Ben Foster‘s lackadaisical touch in the six-yard box allowed Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to close him down, resulting in a block that saw the ball ricochet into the net. Then, 98 seconds later, Watford captain Troy Deeney was shown a straight-red card after an assistant referee spotted Deeney leave an elbow into the head of Arsenal central midfielder Lucas Torreira.

That left Watford down a man and down a goal. Perhaps to make matters worse, Watford manager Javi Gracia doesn’t have a star like Gerard Deulofeu available on the bench to add that attacking spark that Watford will need without Deeney on the pitch.

At the Half: Ramsey, Torreira help give Arsenal early lead, Chelsea still scoreless

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Arsenal started Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Alexandre Lacazette and Mesut Ozil together for one of the few times all season.

So of course, Arsenal’s two central midfielders have found the scoresheet so far.

At halftime, Arsenal holds an impressive 2-0 lead over Napoli at the Emirates Stadium on Thursday evening, with Aaron Ramsey and Lucas Torreira both finding the back of the net. Ramsey scored in the 14th minute off a great pass in the box from Ainsley Maitland-Niles while Torreira created his own goal almost out of nothing.

Torreira forced a turnover at midfield and then ran at Napoli’s defense before switching the ball to his left foot and unleashing a low strike. The shot deflected off Napoli star centerback Kalidou Koulibaly and wrong-footed goalkeeper Alex Meret for a goal. The goal has been listed as an own goal, but it may have been on target before the deflection.

In the Czech Republic, Chelsea is holding strong to a scoreless tie with Slavia Prague.

Here’s a look at Arsenal’s two first half goals.

Torreira to miss Arsenal’s next three Premier League matches

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The red card handed to Lucas Torreira in the North London Derby will stand, his suspension set for three matches.

Torreira, 23, was shown a straight red in stoppage time of Arsenal’s 1-1 draw after sliding studs up into Danny Rose of Tottenham.

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The Uruguayan midfielder has played more than 2,000 minutes across 29 Premier League matches for the Gunners since arriving in August, scoring twice with two assists.

He’ll miss matches against Manchester United, Newcastle United, and Everton.

While that will hurt the Gunners chances of cementing a Top Four spot, it will allow Unai Emery to deploy the diminutive star without reservation in the Europa League.

VIDEO: Arsenal’s Torreira scores amazing bicycle kick goal

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Arsenal huffed and puffed all game long against Huddersfield Town on Saturday, and man of the moment Lucas Torreira delivered a spectacular goal late on.

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The stunning goal arrived in the 83rd minute as Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang did superbly to dink the ball to Torreira and the Uruguayan midfielder sent a stunning bicycle kick into the net to send the Emirates wild.

Watch Torreira’s amazing finish in the video above.