FEATURE | Mikel Arteta’s Ceballos conundrum

When speaking of Dani Ceballos, one immediately references the illustrious debut against Burnley back in the summer sun. A technical masterclass of quick passing, acute dribbling, and determination which led to a hand in Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s scorching winning strike.

Fast forward several months and it is not just the weather which has become bleaker. Whilst a serious hamstring injury has meant, since November, Ceballos’ playing time was taken out of his hands, the games leading up to his injury did not do much to make Gunners fans feel too aggrieved at his oncoming hiatus from the field.

Now though, Ceballos is back on the scene, still no minutes to speak of in 2020 despite being on the bench against Sheffield United, Leeds and Manchester United.  Arteta, speaking to the media over a week ago said, ‘He is getting much closer to the fitness levels that I expect from him to be competing with his team-mates. Obviously, he had a long-term injury and he had an adaptation to this league.”

“But he is a player that can fit our style and now he needs to take a step forward and make things difficult for me and my selection. Now he is ready to step in.”

When Arsenal conceded late on at the weekend against Sheffield United, Arteta chose to trust his side to find an even later winner, choosing not to throw on the Spaniard. Whether or not this is a sign that Ceballos’ compatriot still does not yet trust him enough to change a game remains unclear.

However, Arteta is right that Ceballos can fit the style in which he wants The Gunners to play. The question is as to where in that system the Los Blancos loanee slots in. Having played in the more central number 10 role and as a deeper number 8, it creates a dilemma as to whether Mesut Ozil or one of Granit Xhaka or Lucas Torreira are ousted.

Based on current form, it would be most likely to see the former German international switch out with the more tenacious 23-year-old. Arteta’s 4-2-3-1 shifts into a front 5 when attacking with the front three, number 10 and a wing-back joining the fray. The 10 becomes almost a second striker alongside Alexandre Lacazette – Ozil suits this role rather well yet Ceballos less so.

Santi Cazorla was often referenced to when describing Ceballos for his tendency to come deep, collect the ball and drive at opposition players before finding a pass. In the Arteta system, the number 10 is not tasked with dropping back to drive play forward, more so this is the job of the two pivot midfielders.

Were Arteta to decide to switch Xhaka out for Ceballos, it would certainly add more attacking flair, something Arsenal have been in search of with too few chances being made in games, but the defensive frailties would almost certainly be further exposed to opposition attacks. This a flaw too significant to ignore and therefore Xhaka and Torreira, barring any unlikely January activity, look set to continue their tenure at the base of Arteta’s midfield.

Unfortunately, for Ceballos, the most likely scenario is the Spaniard continues to fight for minutes from the bench. With the upcoming FA Cup and Europa League fixtures, there should be opportunities to show Mikel Arteta how he can aid the Gunners’ fight back in this second half of the season.


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