Dani Ceballos decision looms large for Arsenal as Real Madrid loanee faces defining summer

Simon Collings
·4 min read
 (Arsenal FC via Getty Images)
(Arsenal FC via Getty Images)

Mikel Arteta has spoken this season about how his Arsenal squad have “two faces” and Dani Ceballos is a prime example of that.

On his day, the Spaniard can be unplayable, dictate the tempo of a game and control proceedings from the middle of the park.

When he is out of form, though, Ceballos can leave you wondering if it’s the same player you saw last week.

Tottenham boss Jose Mourinho once jokingly asked Dele Alli if he had been replaced by his brother and Arteta would not have been wrong to use the same quip with Ceballos at times.

Remember Ceballos’ nightmare night against Benfica in February? Or how about the 3-0 defeat to Liverpool earlier this month, when he was overrun and hooked after an hour?

On the flip side, there are matches like Sunday’s 3-0 win at Sheffield United where Ceballos has you watching his every move.

The 24-year-old was at the heart of a lot of Arsenal’s best attacks at Bramall Lane, setting up the opening goal for Alexandre Lacazette to round off a complete performance.

It was one of those games that made you fall back in love with Ceballos, but also left you frustrated at how he cannot replicate that every week.

In many ways, that has been the story of his time at Arsenal, on loan from Real Madrid.

His home debut, back in August 2019, saw him run the show against Burnley. Some fans labelled it one of the best debuts in Arsenal history. Only a week later, he was taken off after an hour against Liverpool and admitted it was a brutal lesson for him.

“They take the air from you,” Ceballos said in an interview the Guardian. “You spend so much time defending and when you want to do something with the ball, when you want to breathe, they’re back on top of you.”

Ceballos’ time at Arsenal has been full of peaks and troughs, but this summer he and the club have to make a decision as to what happens next.

He will have been at Emirates Stadium for two years and, with the same amount of time left on his Real Madrid contract, it is time to stick or twist.

Getty Images
Getty Images

Ceballos has enjoyed his time at Arsenal, particularly living in London, and he pushed hard to rejoin on loan last summer.

Arteta was a big reason behind that, with Ceballos buying into the manager’s beliefs, and he was excited to work with him again.

However, he has also made no secret about his desire to make it at Real Madrid.

“My goal is to succeed at Arsenal. My wish is to wear the Madrid shirt,” Ceballos told Spanish radio station Cadena SER in January.

That path, however, looks blocked right now with Ceballos struggling to prove to Real Madrid manager Zinedine Zidane that he deserves a shot.

While Zidane is at Real Madrid then Ceballos’ hopes of making it there look slim.

That leaves the door open for Arsenal to keep him but, given that the squad needs major surgery, can they justify splashing out on a player who isn’t a guaranteed starter?

A lot will depend on any possible transfer fee. Real Madrid are thought to have wanted over £30million last year to make the move permanent.

Getty Images
Getty Images

Arsenal are unlikely to pay that now, but half that amount would be tempting. They’d be keeping a player who knows the squad, the league, the manager and can be rotated in when required.

Ceballos is also a good influence in the dressing room. People will point to his heated exchanges with David Luiz and Eddie Nketiah, but his hunger and commitment are infectious - even if it has the tendency to boil over every now and then.

At £15m, you probably wouldn’t get many better squad players than Ceballos. Whether he would be open to such a role remains to be seen.

Real Betis have long desired to bring him back and, should they sell Nabil Fekir this summer, they would have the money to do so.

Whatever happens, it promises to be a defining summer for Ceballos.

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