Last season the midfielder was a vital player, but now he finds himself competing in the Premier League for game time and his anger is showing
Before the FA Cup final, Dani Ceballos told Mikel Arteta he wanted to remain with Arsenal for another season.
To better get the deal completed, the director didn’t need any convincing. During Arteta’s year in charge, Ceballos became a big player, establishing a midfield relationship with Granit Xhaka that helped propel Arsenal to glory in the FA Cup.
So an understanding was soon reached with Real Madrid, who was delighted to extend the Emirates loan to the 24-year-old.
“Last season, I had a great time at this club and there was never any doubt in my mind that I wanted to come back,” enthused Ceballos at the time.
It is true that I had other choices, including remaining at Real Madrid and returning to the Spanish League, where I was interested in players.
But I was very excited with what Mikel had been creating at the club when he moved in. He is the right guy to put this club back to where it needs to be which I think is in the Champions League, playing among Europe’s best teams.
It seemed like the dream match.
The transfer gave Ceballos the chance to draw on the fine form of last season and try to win himself a place in the Spanish squad for the European Championship next summer.
It also required Arteta to maintain a player’s services fitting to its style and already completely suited to the Premier League’s requirements; one that was integral to the improvement of Arsenal at the tail end of the 2019-20 campaign.
Arteta said, “I love Dani’s passion and commitment and he’s a highly skilled player.” “We are so glad to have him back. We’re looking forward to seeing him take up where he left off.
But things haven’t gone fully as expected so far.
The fact that this season Ceballos has more battles to his name with team-mates than assists tells his own story. But he has played only four of Arsenal’s eight Premier League games this season, and since June he has not scored for Arteta’s side.
In September, when he set up Eddie Nketiah for the late winner, Ceballos’ only assist came in the 1-0 victory against West Ham.
Ironically, during the pre-match warm-up at Fulham on the first day of the season, this came only a week after the two were caught squaring up to each other by the BT Sport cameras.
In one of the passing drills, Nketiah took offense to a late challenge from Ceballos, and after some angry words were exchanged, the Spaniard replied by twice shoving the young striker away until Sead Kolasinac had to divide the pair.
With Arteta putting it down to the fact that both players were upset at being excluded from the starting XI at Craven Cottage, the incident was quickly smoothed over.
The Arsenal manager, however, has now found himself having to answer questions once again about Ceballos competing with a team-mate, this time David Luiz.
During a training session at London Colney, the two collided, with news saying Luiz hit Ceballos in the face after being upset by the midfielder’s late challenge.
Arteta played down the incident and maintains there is now no problem” between the players ahead of Arsenal’s trip to Leeds United on Sunday.
But the fact that Ceballos has been embroiled in a bust-up again asks concerns about the attitude of the midfielder after a tough start to the season.
“It doesn’t change things much, whether it’s a coincidence or not,” Arteta argued. It’s just the competitive levels and the expectations we want to set that we demand.
It’s clearly a very fine line between being a strategic problem to moving anywhere else that we obviously don’t and don’t want to endorse.
“But it’s a sport of contact and there will be incidents. It’s about how you solve them within the team and how you move from there.”
Ceballos is now in a close role to the one he was in when, just under a year ago, Arteta first arrived at Arsenal.
He failed to get back into the side after recovering from injury and was left out of several match day rosters on occasion, with Arteta openly asking more from the midfielder.
A return to Spain in the January window was a very real prospect, but as the season progressed, Ceballos remained and went on to work his way into the plans of Arteta, becoming one of the first names on the team list.
Now he must take a similar course, and at Elland Lane, he should have the perfect chance to remind all of his qualities.
Ceballos and Granit Xhaka, another player who has found himself among the substitutes in recent weeks, look likely to start in the heart of the midfield with Thomas Partey hurt and Mohamed Elneny self-isolated having tested positive for coronavirus.
Last season, the duo performed wonderfully well in tandem and will have to do so again on Sunday, as Arsenal tries to come back before the international break from their dismal 3-0 defeat to Aston Villa.
Partey’s emergence and Elneny’s form left both staring in from the outside and, in the case of Ceballos, the anger obviously seems to be starting to emerge.
This is not the first time that his path has hit a crossroads at Arsenal. He went in the correct direction on the first occasion and showed his worth.
Arteta is now praying that Ceballos will once again find his way.