Dani Ceballos has emerged as a key figure in Unai Emery’s plans this summer.
With Arsenal struggling to cobble together the sort of offers required to sign top targets such as Wilfried Zaha, the Gunners are set to look to the loan market for a solution.
After losing Aaron Ramsey on a free to Juventus this summer, the north Londoners need to find a suitable replacement in midfield.
Ceballos could be the answer but what would the Real Madrid player bring to Emery’s squad and is he what Arsenal need?
What position does Dani Ceballos play?
A versatile footballer who won himself a move to Real Madrid from Real Betis in 2017, Ceballos can fill numerous roles in midfield rather than specialising one specific job.
That should be a boon to an Arsenal side missing Ramsey.
While the Welshman had his own strengths and weaknesses, his value to the Gunners as an option to pop up in a deeper role or off the striker or even in a wider role in recent years cannot be understated.
Still just 22, Ceballos has already shown he has the quality to play as an attacking midfielder, in a deeper central midfield role and down either flank.
His best position is in the middle of the pitch, however, allowing him to gain a foothold on the play and take control of games.
Ceballos is still just 22 years-old, and although he’s yet to make a real impression at Madrid, his quality is undeniable, and it’s telling that his parent club are interested in a loan rather than a permanent sale.
He is typical of modern Spanish players in that regard, with a seemingly innate ability for dictating play.
In 2,743 minutes of competitive football last season he averaged 70.7 passes per 90 across, with 18.57 of those passes being forwards, and 9.00 into the final third.
For perspective, those figures are similar to Granit Xhaka’s numbers, with the exception being that the Swiss midfielder makes slightly more forwards, and finds the final third more frequently.
Why is that? Simply, Ceballos doesn’t just try to pass the ball forward. He can also drive on when in possession showing his skill and dexterity with the ball at his feet.
Last season he averaged 4.13 dribble attempts per 90 last season, compared to Xhaka’s 0.85, and in terms of progressive runs, Ceballos posted an average of 2.37 per 90, compared to Xhaka’s 0.63.
What Dani Ceballos adds to Arsenal
Ramsey was the player fans looked to for some added thrust to the midfield play last season, and even then his numbers lagged well behind Ceballos.
In fact, in the Premier League none of Emery’s midfielders posted a higher dribble average than Matteo Guendouzi’s 1.94, with Mesut Ozil an exception with 2.30, although he commonly played in more advanced areas.
A better comparison to Ceballos and what he could offer to Arsenal is fellow Spaniard Santi Cazorla who arrived at the Emirates as an attacking midfielder before dropping back to knit the team together.
He excelled at getting the ball forward, through his passing and dribbling ability, and became one of the most dominant midfielders in the Premier League despite his short stature.
Generally, it’s reasonable to suggest that Ceballos is not a player who’s going to be particularly influential in the final third. However, he would be involved in virtually everything beforehand.
After a summer that saw him lift the title at the Under-19 European Championship in Italy, the Spaniard would plug a gap in an Arsenal squad currently lacking the midfielder needed to get them up to pitch in different ways.
There is the argument that the Gunners have other areas of greater importance but the fact that he would arrive from Real without the expense of a transfer fee means that a move makes sense.
Given Ramsey’s departure, the versatility of Ceballos, and what he offers compared to those already present, the deal may prove to be very shrewd for both parties.
It is understood that Madrid do not want to sign off on an agreement with a purchase options for the 22-year-old. Talks between the two sides is ongoing but there is little appetite to sanction such a clause in the Spanish capital.
A short-term fix for Arsenal could in fact prove to be part of a long-term plan to further the development of a future star for Zinedine Zidane’s team.