Dani Ceballos was back to his best in Arsenal’s 4-0 win over Norwich City. If consistent, he is worth paying for. But is it worth gambling on that if?
Arsenal have lots of decisions to make this summer. Almost all of them are awkward, in one way or another. From Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s future to the role of the young players, Mikel Arteta and the club have some thinking to do.
One player who poses an almighty conundrum is Dani Ceballos. The on-loan Real Madrid midfielder has helped fill the midfield void left behind by Aaron Ramsey. He is not as prolific or energetic as the Welshman, but he is more capable in possession, a better passer and dribbler, and perhaps suits Arteta’s more stringent approach.
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Ceballos is set to return to Madrid in the summer. Zinedine Zidane, though, does not want him and will not play him. With the 2021 European Championships looming and Ceballos turning 24 in the summer, he is desperate to play regularly. If he does not get that at Madrid, he will look elsewhere, including a return to north London. But should Arsenal pay for him?
Well, it seems as though Arteta believes they should. When asked about Ceballos’ future in his press conference on Wednesday, he said:
“Both clubs have been in communication. I really like Dani and what he brings to the team. When I joined he wasn’t available because he had a difficult injury, but he’s understanding what we’re trying to do really, really nicely and he has big personality to play and take the ball in any area of the field and give us the continuity that we need as a team to control the games better, but as well without the ball. The running that he’s putting in, the tackles, every time with the interceptions, his desire to win that ball back and help the team, he’s improved so much and he looks a really good player at the moment.”
The quotes follow one of Ceballos’ best performances. In the first half especially, he was brilliant in the 4-0 win over Norwich City. Dictating play from deep, he curled several delicious passes into the forward areas. He teed up Hector Bellerin and Alexandre Lacazette on several occasions, demanded the ball from the back three, and largely ran the game from the base of the midfield.
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This is not the first time he has played in this manner. Before lockdown, he produced similar performances against Newcastle United, Everton, and West Ham. At the start of the season, he was phenomenal against Burnley, after which he was heralded as the press-resistant Santi Cazorla heir. In reality, Ceballos has not lived up to those displays.
They prove that he is capable, and that is why signing him on a permanent deal is such a tantalising prospect. But can he be relied upon to produce at that level throughout an entire season? A consistent Ceballos is absolutely worth paying for, but can he ever be a consistent performer?
That is the question that Arteta and Arsenal must answer for themselves. If they believe they can repeatedly get the best version of Ceballos, he is a must-sign player. Otherwise, it is time to say ‘thank you’ and move on.