Should Arsenal make midfielder their first summer signing?
Arsenal have already said that they are planning for the summer transfer window, despite no certainties of European football. One of the positions that the club are surely most desperate to fill is central midfield, which has been vulnerable all season. In this article, I discuss whether the Gunners should pursue Dani Ceballos when his loan from Real Madrid ends, or whether they are better served looking elsewhere.
Dani Ceballos first caught the eye of Arsenal fans in a 2-0 win over Burnley. Many fans, myself included, likened him to the last Spanish technician Arsenal had, Santi Cazorla.
Both players were quick-footed and able to build up attacks by dribbling in between the lines of the opposition. Add to this Cazorla’s cult-hero status at Arsenal, and it is easy to see why this comparison was so quick to be made. It was hope, rather than genuine belief.
Obviously, these likenings were premature, and injury troubles meant that Ceballos fell out of favour with Arsenal management. From October to February, the Spaniard failed to register a single league appearance, and there were significant murmurings of a January return to the Santiago Bernabeu.
Under Mikel Arteta however, Ceballos has once again begun to find a role in the side, show his quality, and make himself a key component of Arsenal’s good run of form. His performance against West Ham United was just the latest evidence of this. Despite the fortunate nature of the result, Ceballos stood out, completing 84 passes at a success rate of 88% *. Of these, 14 were into the final third, the most by anyone on the pitch, whilst he also completed 2 dribbles, behind just Nicolas Pepe and Bukayo Saka.
In Unai Emery’s system, the wings were the main areas of attack. Crosses were the most common form of attack, yet Ceballos’ return to form has meant that there is far more threat centrally, whilst Saka’s natural attacking instincts ensure that the threat out wide remains.
Defensively too, Ceballos has impressed. He was asked to do more work in front of his back four in the absence of Lucas Torreira and acquitted himself admirably. At the Emirates, he made the most interceptions (9) and won the most defensive duels (6), as well as recovering the ball nine times. In short, he was everywhere.
Obviously, there are still ten games for Arsenal to try and rectify a failed season. Ceballos, largely due to injury, has only made 14 league appearances for the club, exactly 50% of the fixtures. He is yet to score, but has contributed two assists, and if his current form continues, you can expect his goal contributions to increase.
So a player with a year of experience at the club, who is young, playing well, rumoured to be available for thirty-five million pounds – a no-brainer, right? Oddly enough, I personally think that the jury remains out, for a number of reasons.
Arsenal’s midfield has been unbalanced for most of the season. Much of this comes down to the players at the club being skilled often in one or two things that makes a midfielder good, whilst weak in other areas. There is space in the team for that, but there cannot be three of these players in the same midfield, and even less so when they all have similar weaknesses – athleticism.
Mikel Arteta has already spoken of his desire to keep Granit Xhaka, one such midfielder, at the club. Can he really afford to spend thirty-five million pounds on Ceballos in light of this? The money may be better spent on bringing in a player with more athleticism, which would, in turn, help out Granit Xhaka. Ibrahim Sangare of Toulouse or Thomas Partey immediately spring to mind.
As already mentioned, Arsenal’s season isn’t over. Europe remains a real possibility, which will give Arteta greater spending power in the summer. The truth remains, however, that Arsenal cannot afford to spend a lot of money on a regular basis at present unless there are significant outgoings.
If they are looking to bring in a defensive midfielder as well as potentially a centre-back along with William Saliba, can they really afford to spend this much money on another player?
Dani Ceballos is a very good midfielder and one that Arsenal would ultimately be lucky to have. However, whether he is the right player, at the right price, for Arsenal at the very early stages of their rebuild is another matter entirely. Personally, I would rather see a more athletic midfielder targeted, which would provide more balance to Arsenal’s midfield. If signing Ceballos means that we cannot do so, I would rather not retain the Spaniard past the end of the season.
*All statistics are taken from Wyscout.