Arsenal progressed to the last eight of this season’s UEFA Europa League despite suffering a defeat in the second leg of their tie with Olympiacos.
Mikel Arteta’s side won 3-2 on aggregate despite making five changes from the weekend’s north London derby, one of which was the inclusion of Dani Ceballos. The Spaniard, having only come on as a substitute in the first leg, was criticised for losing the ball in the lead up to Youssef El-Arabi’s goal in Piraeus.
Despite having been deployed in a more advanced role, replacing fellow Real Madrid loanee Martin Odegaard, Ceballos was once again was caught in possession and the Moroccan striker capitalised for a second time across the two legs, panicking the Arsenal faithful.
Ceballos first arrived at the Emirates Stadium back in the summer of 2019 when Unai Emery was in charge and after finishing the last campaign strongly under Arteta, rejoined the north Londoners for a second season. However, Los Blancos have made it clear they have no intention of allowing the 24-year-old to stay at Arsenal beyond this summer unless they meet their valuation of the player for a permanent transfer.
Given the mass clear-out overseen by Arteta during the winter, this summer feels huge. However, with the club having reported a loss of £47.8m for the last financial year, it is unlikely the manager will be handed the transfer war chest some supporters might be hoping for.
Taking that into consideration and the fact that Ceballos’ displays in an Arsenal shirt have been incredibly inconsistent, to spend a significant proportion of whatever budget will be available on signing him would be irresponsible.
At times, his energy, technical quality and eye for a pass have seen him dazzle and alongside Granit Xhaka, particularly at the back end of last season – the pair looked solid. Equally, the Spaniard has struggled, and although you could argue he played out of position on Thursday, his performance was so concerning that he was substituted with less than an hour on the clock.
To form an opinion on Ceballos based on one game would be grossly unfair but the reality is we’ve seen these peaks and troughs with regards to his performances for the best part of two seasons now. Perhaps if the circumstances were different and the club were not in such a predicament financially he’d be worth taking a gamble on, but the reality is he’s not done anywhere near enough to justify placing his name at the top of a transfer shortlist.
You can’t fault his effort, application or desire to succeed. His passion for the game has never been in question, you only have to look at how he celebrates even the goals scored by his teammates to know that he is fully invested in Arsenal, even if only for the short-term.
Ceballos has made no secret of his desire to return to Spain and prove himself at Real Madrid someday. Recent reports suggest Zinedine Zidane is open to re-assessing him during the summer and, fingers crossed that leads to him establishing himself at the Bernabeu – that would be the ideal scenario for everyone, because you’d be hard pressed to find an Arsenal fan who doesn’t feel some affection towards Ceballos despite his inconsistencies.