Why Arsenal should snatch at the opportunity to sign Dani Ceballos for £22 million
By James Whiffing
Arsenal signed Dani Ceballos on a season-long loan from Real Madrid during the 2019 Summer transfer window, with the Spaniard being keen to break into the Spanish national team and Real Madrid first team, using this loan to do so. After enduring a rocky start to life in North London under Unai Emery, it seemed as though Ceballos would end his loan spell with the Gunners in search for more game time, with a loan move to a Spanish club being his preferred option, particularly after new head coach Mikel Arteta seemed to dismiss him. However, after training “like an animal,” Ceballos’ fortune at Arsenal changed. The former Manchester City assistant coach seemed to take a shine to Ceballos, with the ex-Arsenal captain insisting on playing him in a midfield double pivot next to Granit Xhaka.
After a string of superb performances under the guidance of Arteta, a potential permanent transfer for Ceballos seems more and more likely, with Real Madrid’s asking price for the Spaniard being considerably low for a player of his ability; here’s why £22 million would be a bargain for Dani Ceballos.
Typically, Ceballos is a creative ‘no. 8’, but under Mikel Arteta, his defensive contributions have been outstanding; the Real Madrid loanee brings an element of steel to the Gunners’ midfield in the absence of Lucas Torreira. Firstly, Ceballos’ 5.01 pressure regains per 90, with 25.41 pressures per 90 and 1.21 turnovers per 90; these indicate just how relentless, providing energy, but also hardly losing the ball. When compared to other Arsenal central midfielders, Ceballos tops the chart with 6.1 tackles per 1,000 opponent touches (in the Premier League), with Joe Willock in second at 4.3. He also makes 6.1 interceptions per 1,000 opponent touches (in the Premier League), again topping the chart for Arsenal midfielders, with Torreira in second place with 3. Another impressive stat is that Ceballos’ 6.1 tackles won per 1,000 opponent touches is more than N’Golo Kante (3.1); Ceballos’ defensive efforts are underrated and should be spoken about more.
Defending is not Ceballos’ only strength; his ball progression skills are extremely valuable to Mikel Arteta’s side. The Spaniard is the most progressive passer and dribbler in the Arsenal midfield with 5 carries per 90 (that move the team upfield by 10m+), a score only beaten by Joe Willock (6.6), and 10.1 progressive passes per 90 (that move the team upfield by 15m+), which puts Ceballos at the top of the chart of Arsenal midfielders (with Xhaka in second place with 8.6). Ceballos also averages 9.36 deep progressions per 90; another stat which showcases his impressive ball progression skills.
Having players with ball progression skills is essential in Arteta’s system since there is a very attacking shape with five players spread across the width of the pitch when the Gunners are in possession; a player (like Ceballos) will help the team drive up the pitch and get into the attacking third more often, therefore meaning that more chances can be created for the likes of Aubameyang, Lacazette, Pepe (etc) to score from.
The 23-year-old also averages an 84% passing accuracy, with 1.48 successful dribbles per 90 and 2.13 fouls won per 90. These further reinforces his ball progression and retention skills. This dribbling ability and ability to win fouls adds a bit more dynamism to a bit of static and cautious midfield.
Another pro of having Ceballos in midfield is that there is a player who can link the defence, midfield and attack. This is very useful since it means that the defence has a short option (they don’t have to go long every time) and the likes of Aubameyang, Lacazette and Pepe are fed the ball and aren’t left completely isolated.
Arguably Ceballos’ only standout weakness is his one-footedness. In the past, fans have been quick to criticise Ceballos with regards to him turning and spinning around with the ball to find an option; if he had a competent left foot, then he would be able to shift the ball onto it and pass it instead of having to make a suitable angle to pass with his right foot. One player who is known for his ambidextrous dribbling and passing is Santi Cazorla. Cazorla’s two-footedness gave Arsenal another dimension in midfield; the Spaniard could pass the ball to virtually anyone on the pitch when given the space and time, and he didn’t have the same issue as Xhaka and Ceballos. This element to Ceballos’ game can often slow down the speed of Arsenal’s build up- he often takes too long on the ball.
Ceballos has also struck up a very good partnership with Granit Xhaka in a midfield double pivot. The energy that the Spaniard brings allows Xhaka to be a more stationary anchor in midfield; this hides the Swiss’ huge lack of pace since he doesn’t have to go box to box and can instead stay back more and not be caught out on the counter attack. The pair are very progressive players (as mentioned above with Ceballos), with the slick-haired Spaniard driving the team forwards with his dribbling (and passing) and Xhaka pushing the team forwards with his wide range of passing.
Arsenal do not have a clause in Ceballos’ contract which gives them an option to buy or any sort of discount on the player, so the Gunners will have to start fresh negotiations if they want to tie down the 23-year-old on a permanent basis. It is widely renowned that Arsenal won’t have too much money in the Summer transfer window, so it would make a lot of sense to meet Real Madrid’s seemingly low asking price of £22 million; in fact, it would be a bargain! If Thomas Partey was to join Dani Ceballos at Arsenal in the Summer transfer window, then Arteta would not only have a lot of depth in midfield, but also a lot of quality to choose from too.