Arsenal struggled against West Ham on Saturday night.
Nonetheless, Dani Ceballos could still walk from the game with pride. However, he looked far from himself in the first half against West Ham. After re-joining Arsenal on a season long-loan, he was left out of the starting XI away at Fulham last week and initially looked a little off the pace during his second full Arsenal debut on Saturday.
His passing was often wasteful and he uncharacteristically failed to stamp his authority over the affair. Especially during the early minutes.
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After ending his first loan spell in red and white so convincingly just a few weeks ago, I, like many, expected Ceballos to ease back into our starting XI seamlessly. Ceballos was seen to have been at his best on the luscious Emirates Stadium grass at the back end of last campaign as evidenced by his performances against Norwich and Leicester, so to have seen him come back with a bang wouldn’t have been all that surprising.
In a way, Ceballos did make an emphatic return to the Emirates Stadium. However, it was from an archetypal performance. The Spaniard’s forte during the latter stages of his first spell with Arsenal was progressing the ball through the lines finding the likes of Nicolas Pépé and Alexandre Lacazette, who were trusted to provide a creative or goal scoring touch.
Yesterday, as per FBREF, he played just one through ball and nine progressive passes. To provide some context for the progression stat, Granit Xhaka made 16 progressive passes against West Ham. Room for improvement.
So, it is perhaps the case that Ceballos was showing some signs of rust on Saturday. In fairness to him, his last full 90 minutes of football took place at Wembley in the FA Cup final almost two months ago. However, after his previous Arsenal debut at home against Burnley last season, a mesmeric performance, I wouldn’t have been all that surprised to have seen him run the show again.
Still, the fact of the matter is that he didn’t. But, he still proved his worth to Mikel Arteta.
After a poor first half performance, which almost forced Arteta to replace Ceballos with Elneny at half-time, as evidenced by the Egyptian’s vigorous warm-up during the break, the Spaniard brushed himself down and gave his everything to the Arsenal cause during the second period. He was tenaciously attempting to break up any West Ham momentum and looked to provide an attacking threat at any given opportunity.
His hard offensive work eventually paid off for Arsenal’s winning goal. After exchanging the ball with Bukayo Saka, Ceballos made an Aaron Ramsey-esque run in behind the West Ham defence which was found by the aforementioned Englishman. Then, Ceballos smartly slid the ball into Nketiah’s feet to create a chance that the 21-year-old simply couldn’t miss. After providing just two assists last year, Ceballos and his fans will be hoping yesterday’s set-up will be the first of many for him this year.
It would also be great to see the midfielder break forward a bit more often this season. His FA Cup quarter-final winning goal at Bramall Lane last season and his assist against the Hammers on Saturday portray that he’s more than capable of providing something of an elusive attacking danger. A goal scoring threat from midfield is something we really missed last year. Perhaps, with more offensive confidence, Ceballos could help to nullify this problem.
Regardless, it was great to see the 24-year-old back in north London yesterday. He’s a player who always gives his all for the badge and his quality is clear for all to see. A return performance to build upon for Ceballos.
The best is definitely yet to come for a man who has the potential to be a crucial cog in Arteta’s machinery this season.
All that being said, don’t take my word for this one, I’m just a fan. Football managerial ‘expert’ Tim Sherwood thinks Ceballos will be found out for being too “weak” this season. The ex-T*ttenham manager must be right…(Insert rolling eyes emoji).