Dani Ceballos will not be back at Arsenal next season. Per multiple reports, the Spanish midfielder will return to Real Madrid this summer to sort out his future, and he has expressed his desire to remain in Spain and to not go out on loan again, even in La Liga. He feels that the Spanish league suits his style and strengths more than the Premier League.
It’s not clear whether Zinedine Zidane views him as a meaningful contributor to the Real Madrid setup given the consecutive loans. That said, Toni Kroos and Luka Modric are on the wrong side of 30 and Casemiro and Isco are both 29. Los Blancos could do with getting a bit younger in the center of their midfield.
Now 24 years old, Ceballos would like to find a permanent home and regular minutes. He spoke glowingly of Real Betis, where he began his senior professional career, so he might push for a move there if he doesn’t make it at Real Madrid. I could also see him moving to Villarreal to reunite with Unai Emery, the manager who initially brokered his loan to Arsenal.
Ceballos’ time in North London has been a mixed bag: he had a tremendous run of form during Project Restart and was instrumental in the FA Cup win, but he has struggled to put in consistent performances this season and has made critical errors in Europa League knockout matches. When he’s “on” he’s been quite good, and I’ve been impressed with the development of his defensive game since coming to Arsenal. His defense has regressed a bit this season, but he’s miles ahead of where he was when he first came on loan.
Even if Ceballos were open to a permanent Arsenal move, which it appears he is not, I’d be against the purchase. I don’t think he’s good enough for where the Gunners aspire to be as a club. When everybody is healthy, Ceballos is not first-choice for Mikel Arteta. Spending Real Madrid’s reported £22M-plus price tag on a guy who won’t be a starter and may not be better than Joe Willock (who Arsenal may sell this summer) is not good business, especially when the club has other, more pressing needs.
And while he is entitled to express his opinion on his career and where he wants to play, I don’t love that he’s basically said “I don’t want to be here next season” just ahead of a European semifinal tie. You expect him to be professional and still give his all on the pitch, but it strikes me as bad form and leaves that lingering question in the back of my mind about whether he’s fully committed when he pulls on an Arsenal kit.
All told, he’s been a useful piece for two seasons, filled a hole in the lineup in the center of the midfield, hopefully bridged Arsenal to a more permanent answer at the position, and helped the Gunners win silverware. I hope he helps the club win another this season (although that might be tough with his second leg suspension) and finds a permanent home next year that makes him happy.