Ceballos has important role to play at Arsenal despite uncertain future
- Credit: PA
Starting his first game since early November, Dani Ceballos showed just what he can offer Arsenal in Sunday’s 4-0 win over Newcastle United, despite his future looking far from certain. Islington Gazette Arsenal reporter Dan Mountney looks at the Spaniard’s qualities, why he could be a key player for Mikel Arteta and what will happen when his loan ends.
Ceballos joined the Gunners in the summer from Real Madrid on a season-long loan deal and despite making an instant impression in the win over Burnley back in August, a loss of form and a hamstring injury has limited his playing time in north London.
The 23-year-old was back in the team to face Newcastle - his first start since being injured against Vitoria Guimaraes on November 6 - and he shone with a busy performance that highlighted just what he can bring.
His inclusion was a clear attempt by Arteta to take the handbrake off after some timid displays at the Emirates this season, and it was a move that worked as Ceballos pulled the strings from deep and dictated play.
The Arsenal boss eluded to this in his post-match presser, saying: "I thought Dani was ideal for this game in that game position today.
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"The way he's been training he completely deserves a chance, and I'm so glad with his performance."
With Granit Xhaka, Lucas Torreira, Matteo Guendouzi and Joe Willock all vying for the two deeper midfield roles in Arteta's system, Ceballos stands out by offering qualities that the others don't, something which is reflected in his stats this season.
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The Spaniard offers far more going forward than the quartet he is competing with, completing 1.2 key passes on average per game - with only Mesut Ozil and Nicolas Pepe having more - compared to 0.7 by Xhaka, 0.6 from Torreira and Guendouzi and 0.5 by Willock.
Despite averaging less passes than Xhaka (66.9) and Guendouzi (51.8) with 46.5 per game, Ceballos has the highest passing accuracy in the squad with 89.2 per cent. That ability to distribute the ball accurately is key in Arteta's system and style.
The Arsenal boss has also allowed his side to play the ball long after the much-derided playing from the back system under former manager Unai Emery, and Ceballos fits this mould too. His 3.3 accurate long balls per 90 is only bettered by Xhaka with five.
While others offer more defensively, his 60 per cent tackle success rate this season, 63 recoveries and 58 duels won are still good numbers which show he can provide a defensive shield when needed.
Another quality is his ability to bring others into the game and get the best out of them, most notably Mesut Ozil.
Against Newcastle, Ceballos' forward-thinking style allowed Arsenal's midfield base to push further upfield, meaning Ozil could drop into the spaces between the lines rather than having to come deep to get the ball as he has done at times when playing with the likes of Xhaka, Torreira and Guendouzi.
Finding a team-mate with 85 of his 91 passes against the Magpies, 63 of those came in the attacking half to seemingly back this up. It's no coincidence that Ozil's best performance this season came with Ceballos behind him.
The Spaniard's eye-catching display on Sunday offers hope for a player who was reportedly looking to return to his parent club in January, and with the Gunners still having something to play for in three competitions he has plenty to give in the remainder of the campaign.
As for what the future holds, that remains very uncertain.
Ceballos is still highly thought of back at Real Madrid and an option to buy was not included in his loan deal, but a somewhat frosty relationship with Los Blancos boss Zinedine Zidane could be a big factor in his future.
Arsenal's finances or lack thereof could also influence any deal. With a market value of £36m according to Transfermarkt.com, Ceballos won't come cheap and Arteta's reported preference to sign a box-to-box midfielder could see the Gunners look elsewhere.
The former Real Betis could be keen to stay in north London though, having previously expressed his delight with his time at the club.
One thing is for sure though. The 23-year-old could have a big role to play as Arsenal chase a Champions League place and trophies in the FA Cup and Europa League. If he continues to play like he did against Newcastle, he might just force Arteta's hand in the summer.