The resurgence of Dani Ceballos: Too good to drop?
By Max Champness
Let me take you back to the seventeenth of August, near the start of this Premier League season. A crowd of over 60,000 people were lucky enough to witness the full league debut of Dani Ceballos- the hugely anticipated Real Madrid loanee. A performance that many described as a ‘masterclass’ quickly set Ceballos out as a fan favourite, with his intricate footwork, excellent vision and ‘win at all costs’ mentality. Two assists and a commanding performance on the day brought Arsenal fans to liken him to a fellow Spaniard; ex-Arsenal midfielder and sorely missed playmaker Santi Cazorla.
Fast-forwards several months, and Ceballos’ progress at Arsenal seemed to have prematurely plateaued, with the Spaniard facing a torn muscle bundle that kept him out for 54 days and 11 games. Meanwhile, fellow teammates Lucas Torreira and Granit Xhaka had begun to cement their place within the Arsenal side- showing how well they can operate when alongside one another. Ceballos’ place within the side was increasingly dissipating.
Come the January transfer window, Ceballos had been unable to regain a place within the team, with the Torreira-Xhaka pivot looking even stronger under new manager Mikel Arteta. Rumours circulated in the media from reliable sources suggesting Ceballos was seriously contemplating returning to Real Madrid due to a lack of game time. These rumours were all but confirmed by the man himself in an interview where he stated his thought process behind a potential exit. The Spaniard eventually decided to stay at Arsenal- saying he felt loved by the fans and wanted to earn his place back into the starting line-up.
Jumping even further to just 11 days before the time of publishing this article, Dani Ceballos was (much to the surprise of many Arsenal fans) included in the Premier League starting line-up for the first time under Arteta, with on-form Torreira adopting a place on the bench. The manager’s trust was repaid, with the team collecting a triumphant 4-0 victory at home to Newcastle. Ceballos starred in the game, linking the defence and attack excellently, whilst also bringing the best out of Mesut Ozil. He played with a point to prove and he certainly justified his inclusion.
Come our next game just days ago, Ceballos was again started- this time against Everton. Although at times we looked defensively exposed, the midfield was once again strong in providing an offensive base. Ceballos dominated and once again got Ozil more involved with play, leading to a narrow 3-2 victory. With the Spaniard now starting consecutive Premier League matches for the first time in months, the debate over which midfield pivot should start is that of popular interest in the present.
With Granit Xhaka simply too consistent and important to drop in the present, it looks like Torreira and Ceballos will be battling it out for the starting position in weeks to come. Both have clear benefits and setbacks to their game: Ceballos offers a more offensive and creative threat with his progressive passing although, despite some crucial tackles in recent weeks, he doesn’t provide the team with as much defensive solidity as Lucas Torreira does.
The battle to start may be decided by both form and the opposition we face- a more threatening opponent may require Torreira’s mobility and positional discipline, whilst an opponent that sits back in a low block and lets us dominate possession may side more with the creative Ceballos.
With Tottenham, Manchester City, Leicester and Liverpool all left on the fixture list for this season, it will be a very interesting last few months of the campaign. If Ceballos can keep up his fine form, we may well see the loanee make the move to London permanent- but a run of starts for Torreira could forge the opposite. Nevertheless, competition for starting places in the squad is never a bad thing- as well as the previously mentioned, Willock, Guendouzi and other midfield players also itching to get opportunities.
Mikel Arteta has some big decisions to make. Our job is to back him in those choices and support the team.