Dani Ceballos is a lot better than some people think – Here’s why:

Throwback to August last year, Arsenal had just beaten Burnley 2-1 and a player that caught the eye, impressing each and every single one of us was Dani Ceballos. This was a player Arsenal had brought on loan to add depth and creativity to the midfield, a player majority of the fans had clamoured for signing at the time.

Since then, his Arsenal career has had its fair share of ups and downs. But I always say this – before judging a player’ performances at face value, context is vital. Questions such as where the player is being utilized? Is the role suited to his playing strengths? How good are those around him? And so on…

In that man of the match display against Burnley, Arsenal had deployed a 4-3-3. Guendouzi as the regista, Ceballos as the play maker in left central midfield and Joe Willock as the box to box player. The very next game against Liverpool, Emery changed shape, with Ceballos being used in the hole of the diamond behind Aubameyang and Pepe. Ceballos looked completely out of sorts. He was then dropped in the North London derby and post this match, Unai Emery implemented a 4-2-3-1 with Ceballos as the number 10 again and unsurprisingly Dani failed to impress. Unai Emery’s management of Ceballos was diabolical to say the least.

Till date, the maximum number of goals that Ceballos has scored in a league season is 3 and the highest number of assist contributions he has is 2. to What does this indicate? He isn’t a final third player, rather he is someone who can take you there – what I’d term a build-up player. He has been utilized in a multitude of roles over his career – from playing deeper in midfield to playing as the number 10 and also outwide in certain occasions.

Despite the fact that Ceballos never had great goal/assist contributions or a fixed position, he is rated extremely highly by numerous coaches in Spain – right from Spain’s U-21 coach, Luis de la Fuente under whom he won the U-21 European Championship and named in team of the tournament last year to senior team coaches such as Julen Lopetegui under whom he was a constant feature at Real Madrid and Luis Enrique.

Luis Enrique, speaking to ESPN, said of Ceballos:

“I saw Dani Ceballos countless times with Spain’s Under-21s and he did the same on his debut with them as he did with us, a different player. He’s special, there aren’t many like that.”

To this, Ceballos responded to Marca stating that he has saved the clips of Luis Enrique praising him and that whenever he is going through bad moments, he listens to these words. This tells us something about his character, that he needs the trust of the coach which is something that keeps him energized and motivated through all times – good and bad. In this interview, he also speaks about the interest from Jurgen Klopp, yet another top coach who is a fan of Ceballos’ characteristics.

Ceballos is well aware that the No.10 role is not one for him, it is a view that Mikel Arteta concurs with. When you’re playing for Spain, there’s a lot of technically sound and positionally intelligent players on the same wavelength. It doesn’t really matter where in midfield Ceballos features – even if he starts as the most advanced midfielder on paper, he isn’t holding back the team in the final third.

But in club football, especially in a team that is still a work in progress – this is not sustainable for Ceballos. In that same interview with Marca, he spoke about how the No.10 role is virtually non existent in these times and that one day, he wants to become a coach or sporting director – this tells us that he is a student of the game. He also added that the he is improving physically to cope up with the demands of the league – something that is going to help him for the rest of his career. When Dani came to Arsenal, he highlighted improving his positional awareness off the ball as being an area he wants to improve.

It all points to one thing, Ceballos is preparing for a deeper role, one where he can give the team a balance between defence and attack. Under Mikel Arteta, his positional sense has improved drastically and defensively, he is proving to be a tough nut to crack. He has also become more direct in his approach – whether this is due to a better tactical setup or clearer instruction is hard to gauge. The net result is that its enhanced his best trait, ball progression even further. All this has effectively led to Lucas Torreira being displaced out of the starting eleven.

Arteta deserves some credit here too for bringing the best in Ceballos through his man management. He left Ceballos out of a few games due to poor fitness levels which led to the player training even harder. Speaking about Ceballos post the Newcastle match in February, Arteta stated: “He completely changed his behaviour and trained like an animal. I thought he was the best player on the pitch.”

When Ceballos is at his best, he is an absolute delight on the eye – he intercepts everything, presses with high levels of intensity, plays crisp, progressive passes whilst also maintaining a high ball retention percentage. Of course, he has plenty of room for improvement and can always try and add things to his locker – we saw against Sheffield United for example, he made a nice dart into the box and a calm finish to send us to the FA Cup semi-final. The bottom line is we are starting to see the signs of consistency as soon he’s been given a run of games in his right position, which is deeper in midfield.

It is clear that Zinedine Zidane and Ceballos don’t exactly see eye to eye. Arteta has said that Arsenal and Real Madrid will have talks regarding his situation. There has been speculation on a possible one year loan extension – this is something Arsenal must try to do. At this moment , he starts ahead of every other central midfielder for us bar Xhaka. Additionally, Matteo Guendouzi looks set to leave the club.

Even if we are to bring in Thomas Partey, Ceballos can still be a valuable member of the squad and give us ball progression coupled with defensive nous. A loan extension is a move that really makes sense for us and I for one, am excited to watch how he develops in the coming years.

Arsenal FC is Life.

One Response

  1. Emmanuel July 11, 2020