A few years ago, the Premier League witnessed a stupendous Spaniard, clad in the famous Red and White of Arsenal, mesmerise opponents and onlookers alike. A certain Santi Cazorla had evolved himself into an elite central midfielder and one capable of stamping his authority on games and tilting it his side’s way.
The diminutive Spaniard had such an impact on the Gunners that several felt they might’ve been able to turn a previously woeful away corner. Unfortunately, that promise was nipped in a bud, when Cazorla contracted an Achilles injury, an ailment that was to plague him for the better part of three to four seasons and one that led to a part of his skin being painfully cut out to repair the disintegrated area.
Consequently, the Spaniard failed to feature in any of the EPL Fixtures for the North Londoners post-October 2016. In the process though, he left quite an enormous void at the heart of Arsenal’s midfield, a gap that the Gunners have worked frantically to fill, but to no avail.
To put things into further perspective, Unai Emery signed off on a rather questionable loan deal for Denis Suarez in January 2019, with the manager hoping for his countryman to emulate what another great Spaniard had done. However, that particular move failed to bear as much fruit as expected, meaning that Arsenal were in the market for a midfielder cut out of a similar cloth.
Unsurprisingly, when Dani Ceballos became available, albeit on loan, the Gunners were quick to snap up the 23-year-old, anticipating that he might be able to infuse the side with the midfield spark it had been craving. And, it’s fair to say that the experiment has panned out better than how it transpired with Suarez.
New Moon Rising
After making his debut for the Gunners in a 1-0 win at Newcastle, Ceballos laid down his marker the following weekend, courtesy a remarkable performance against Burnley.
Under the North London sun, the Spaniard pulled the strings and provided the creative impetus needed to unlock a rather stubborn Clarets side.
Though a couple of uninspiring displays have also crept into his stint, he has largely been able to resurrect a midfield looking for a shade of craft and guile.
On his day, Ceballos boasts the ability to open up several attacking avenues for his teammates courtesy his attribute of dragging opposition players towards him, which causes the latter’s defensive shape to go awry.
While that particular tactic is filled with risk, especially if he gets dispossessed, he is canny enough to wriggle out of those tight predicaments, more often than not.
Additionally, his propensity to keep the ball moving swiftly is vital to a team that has, at times, been criticised for its sluggish build-up play. On countless occasions, the Spaniard pops up in between the lines, interchanges a string of quick one-twos with those around him before switching play or releasing runners into space.
Moreover, that strategy could work a charm when Arsenal are finally able to unleash the fabulous front three of Alexandre Lacazette, Nicolas Pepe and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
Furthermore, on away trips, where Arsenal might be a little circumspect to go with four offensive-minded players, Ceballos could prove to be the missing link between the midfield and attack.
Recently, Arsenal played out a drab 1-1 draw at Old Trafford where Granit Xhaka, Lucas Torreira and Matteo Guendouzi featured as the midfield triumvirate. On that dreary evening in Manchester, the North Londoners’ attacking play was just as dull as the weather, if not more.
Wicked Wizard of the South
Though they established a foothold in the middle of the park, they were unable to turn the screw, thereby reducing themselves to feed off scraps, even against a Manchester United side in absolute turmoil. A match of that ilk demanded a player of Ceballos’ wizardry, capable of conjuring a breath-taking pass or a moment of magic to tilt the game.
Having said that, the Spaniard isn’t completely rid of weaknesses. Firstly, there is a defensive edge he might need to add to his game, considering he might have to function as the third central midfielder on occasions.
Also, he might want to improve his end product as there have been instances where he has weaved innumerable pretty patterns without actually stitching together something substantial.
Yet, the decision to let Ceballos leave, despite Real Madrid’s position in the La Liga table seems astonishing. Though the Los Blancos are perched at the pinnacle, one feels that the Spaniard could’ve added a bit of freshness to a midfield that’s been accused of staleness lately, thereby enabling Zinedine Zidane’s side to distance themselves from the chasing pack in the La Liga table.
However, while shipping off the midfielder seems to be Madrid’s loss, it certainly is Arsenal’s gain, in light of the several dimensions Ceballos adds to the Gunners.
And, though there might be the odd dark cloud on the horizon, much of it looks brighter with Ceballos rather than the other way round.