No one would have batted an eye-lid if Dani Ceballos didn’t return to Arsenal if his performances in the first half of the season was taken into account. He wasn’t great in an Arsenal team who were lurching from one disaster to another under former manager Unai Emery.
Mikel Arteta’s arrival didn’t mean an automatic change in fortunes for the Spaniard as well. He missed the whole of December with a muscle injury and even after returning to fitness, he didn’t play a league game under the new Arsenal manager until February.
But since then he never looked back and started each of the last 13 Premier League games, barring one, and was pivotal in Arsenal winning the FA Cup, starting both the semi-final and the final.
By the end of the season, there was a clamour for Dani Ceballos to return to Arsenal despite suggestions that he was in favour of a move to his former club Real Betis in Spain. But the Gunners managed to strike one more loan deal with Real Madrid to bring him back to the Emirates for the 2020-21 campaign.
Dani Ceballos’ return is one less headache for Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta
Unai Emery used Dani Ceballos primarily in the number 10 role but barring his first start against Burnley, the Spaniard never looked settled in that position despite earning praise for his performances for the Spain Under-21s in the same role.
Mikel Arteta slotted him into the team alongside Granit Xhaka in a double pivot and it allowed Ceballos to show all the facets of his game. Other than his ability to carry the ball from midfield, the 24-year-old is also a feisty player and isn’t afraid to get stuck into opponents. The deeper midfield role helped the Arsenal manager to bring that side of Ceballos’ game to the fore.
Playing alongside Granit Xhaka also gives the midfielder to carry the ball forward without feeling too concerned about losing the ball and immediately exposing his side to a counter-attack.
The Arsenal manager is expected to continue to use Dani Ceballos in that role despite trying to sign a defensive midfielder in the transfer window.
The Spaniard’s arrival has given Mikel Arteta one less issue to think about this summer. Arsenal are working under tight budgetary constraints and they cannot afford to make any mistakes in the market. Losing Ceballos would have meant trying to sign one more midfielder under a tight budget.
Arsenal are in the market for a more defensive-minded midfielder and re-signing Ceballos means they will not have to get into the market for another box-to-box player.
They can also afford to sell Lucas Torreira to raise funds from the transfer window as well. Dani Ceballos on loan is not only a smart footballing decision but more importantly for Arsenal, a smart financial call as well.
Mikel Arteta will expect more from Dani Ceballos in the final third next season
Dani Ceballos moving to a deeper role gave Arsenal more balance in midfield but his numbers in the final third need improving.
Ahead of his arrival last summer, the Spaniard was known for his creativity and two assists in his first start against Burnley was evidence of that. But Ceballos didn’t register another assist for the rest of the Premier League campaign and never hit the back of the net in the league as well. His two goals for Arsenal last term came in the Europa League and the FA Cup.
While Dani Ceballos’ tenacity and work ethic lifted his team-mates and added a different dimension to Arsenal’s midfield last season, Arteta will expect a better output from him in the 2020-21 campaign.
Arsenal are still too dependent on Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang for goals and their game is built on getting the best out of their captain. Arsenal would like to get the rest of the team to get into the act as well, especially the midfield.
Dani Ceballos has shown earlier in his career he has it in him to score and create more chances but it was missing last season. Goals from midfield are crucial for any top team in the world and for Arsenal to do better than finish eighth in the league next season, they cannot depend on Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to score all their goals.
What is in it for Dani Ceballos?
Dani Ceballos is not part of Zinedine Zidane’s plans for next season. Regardless of whether he was coming back to Arsenal, Real Madrid would have loaned him out again in the ongoing window.
The Spaniard was well aware of that fact but a return to Arsenal was not a guarantee. Real Betis were interested in signing him and the idea of returning to his former club did appeal to him for a while.
But Arsenal wanted him back as well and Mikel Arteta had forged a strong relationship before his first loan spell ended at the Emirates. Ceballos and the Arsenal manager had an honest one-to-one conversation in the middle of the season before he returned to the team.
The Spaniard enjoyed Arteta’s honesty and what he demanded from him and he went on to play a pivotal role in the club winning the FA Cup. Ceballos loved playing under his compatriot and he was aware that Arsenal wanted him back.
In the end, the Gunners played their cards right and Arteta managed to convince the midfielder to return for one more season at least.
Playing in the Premier League and for Arsenal is also beneficial for Ceballos himself. The midfielder wants to be part of Spain’s European Championship squad next summer. But he hasn’t made the Spain squad since October and is not part of the UEFA Nations League team as well.
He is aware that a solid season in the Premier League with Arsenal will bring the spotlight back on him and win him back a place in the Spain squad.
One more year at Arsenal for Dani Ceballos makes sense for both the player and the club.