Dani Ceballos may end up in North London after all. Mikel Arteta said in his Leicester pre-match press conference that Arsenal are in talks with Real Madrid about keeping the Spanish midfielder at the Emirates beyond the end of the season. Whether that’s on another loan, a swap deal, or a permanent transfer remains to be seen, but Mikel Arteta said a number of options were on the table. “We have to be open to different situations. And I think the market will give us the opportunity to do certain deals like this [swaps] but at the moment I cannot comment on any of that,” said the Arsenal manager.
Said Arteta about Ceballos, “I’m really happy with him, the way he’s evolving, and I love how much he likes to play football – the passion he puts into every training session and every game, you just have to see his celebrations. I think he’s evolving in the right way and he’s becoming a really important player for us.”
When Arteta took over last year, it looked as if Ceballos would not be a part of his plans. The midfielder’s loan was orchestrated by Unai Emery, and Ceballos was dealing with a thigh injury that kept him out for several weeks. Arteta made it clear in the media that he wasn’t pleased with Ceballos’ attitude and demanded more from the Spaniard in training. Ceballos seems to have responded well, found his place in the side, and is playing much better since the resumption of the Premier League.
Before Matteo Guendouzi appeared to have both feet out the door at Arsenal, I wasn’t keen on a move for Ceballos. In May and June, it seemed as if he wanted to be in Spain next season, either at Real Madrid, or (more likely) on a loan/sale to another La Liga club. But how quickly things can change.
I suspect that part of Ceballos’ desire to return to Spain was that Arsenal seemed congested at the base of the midfield with Granit Xhaka, Lucas Torreira, and Matteo Guendouzi potentially competing with him for playing time next season. But with Guendouzi in the doghouse and reportedly being shopped, Ceballos stands to benefit. He has already picked up most of Guendouzi’s playing time, and I think he’s played well of late (and Arsenal’s four-match winning streak supports that).
Ceballos isn’t at the “whatever price, we’ve got to have him” level, not by a long-shot. But for the right price, the move makes sense. Or put it this way, were Arsenal to make a reasonable deal for him, you won’t hear me saying “oh, they should have spent the money elsewhere/for someone else.”
There’s value in Ceballos’ familiarity with Arteta’s system that will likely be magnified by the short off-season and training camp expected for next season. It’s going to be a quick turnaround with less time to get any new signings up to speed. Look at how long it took for Nicolas Pépé to start contributing on an even semi-consistent basis. Keeping Ceballos around, whether on loan or permanently, avoids that acclimation period.
Pure speculation here because there’s no indication this deal is being discussed but, I think Arsenal come out behind in a straight swap of Ceballos for Guendouzi with Real Madrid. That’s based mostly on the 3-year age difference. On recent form, there is not much to distinguish the two players. I’d like to see the Gunners get some cash in that deal as well, but given how public the spat with Guendouzi has been, that’s unlikely. Obviously, selling Guendouzi then using the proceeds to buy Ceballos is another option.
And if Arteta is able to keep Ceballos at or close to the level he has been of late, I don’t think Arsenal miss a beat if the Spaniard replaces the Frenchman on the permanent roster. It might even make the Gunners better.