One deal that could prove crucial for the future of Mikel Arteta’s side is whether or not Dani Ceballos will extend his stay in north London.
As it stands, the 23-year-old is a Real Madrid player as there was no option-to-buy in his 2019/20 loan to Arsenal. Despite this, both the player and Arteta have publicly admitted they would be open to him return to the Emirates next season.
“The truth is I’m very happy at Arsenal. It’s a club in which I already have a year of experience, so it would be very easy to return. I wouldn’t have to adapt to a new league or new club with a different manager and players,” Ceballos told Sky Sports on July 21.
“I think it would be a good step for me. But like I said, my future depends on Real Madrid and right now I don’t know their decision.”
While Ceballos has three years left on his contract with Los Blancos, the club are open to letting him go on a permanent deal, but Arsenal are in favour of an extension of his loan.
Before any detailed talks can be held between the clubs, however, the midfielder is set to meet with Florentino Perez and other Madrid chiefs to discuss his future after Los Blancos’ Champions League season ends. They play the second leg of their round of 16 vs Manchester City [who are 2-1 up with away goals] on Friday [August 7].
In the meantime, Arsenal don’t have to look too far for an example as to why they should feel optimistic that they can secure a deal for a man who doesn’t appear to need that much convincing to stay in the Premier League. Just six days ago, Ceballos lined up against a former Real Madrid who found himself in a very similar situation last summer.
Chelsea may have had an option-to-buy when they loaned Mateo Kovacic from Real Madrid in 2018, but by the time summer 2019 rolled around, it was a mixture factors similar to those experienced by Ceballos which made that option look more desirable for the midfielder.
Most importantly, he was wanted. Although his performances weren’t impressive under Maurizio Sarri, he still started 21 Premier League games in the 2018/19 season, making 10 substitute appearances, while starting 10 of Chelsea’s games on their way to Europa League glory that year. With Sarri’s sacking, Frank Lampard then gave his approval for the permanent signing of Kovacic ahead of his arrival, as revealed by football.london’s Oliver Harbord.
This season under Lampard, the 26-year-old went a few steps better, starting 23 games in the Premier League [eight substitute appearances] and proving himself to be a standout member of the Chelsea side, similar to the way Ceballos was rejuvenated after Arteta’s appointment.
A key issue for the Croatian in Spain was that he fell out of favour under Zinedine Zidane. Despite being a regular under Rafa Benetiz in the 2016/17, after his sacking and Zidane’s arrival, his game time diminished drastically. Having started 19 La Liga games in the 2016/17 season [in which Zidane took over in January], his sole season under the Frenchman in 2017/18 resulted in just 10 league starts.
Signed in 2017, Ceballos experienced similar issues at the Bernaubeu, starting just 17 La Liga games in two seasons. For context, he started 18 Premier League games for Arsenal despite missing 11 games in all competitions due to a hamstring injury. Looking at Madrid’s current squad, Luca Modric may be ageing as one of their midfield trio but the emergence of Federico Valverde – who started 21 league games and made 12 substitute appearances this season – will make his task even harder.
Having done what it took Kovacic two seasons to do in one, in proving he can be an integral part of Arteta’s plans, the future would look brighter from an individual standpoint at Arsenal. Yes, Real Madrid will win more trophies than Arsenal, but Kovacic is a direct example that the Bernaubeu doesn’t have to be the answer for everybody that decides to move there.
Cementing a place for himself in the Gunners midfield from February onward, if he were to take up the opportunity of extending his stay, there would be very few arguments for him not to remain a regular next season due to the impact he had in the double pivot with Granit Xhaka this season.
The one drawback that came with him in the midfield was that despite being exceptional in the midfield third, there was an overriding lack of creativity in the final third. That issue is already being addressed, however, as Arteta is planning to keep Emile Smith Rowe – who will fit in as either a No.8. or a No.10. in a 4-2-3-1/4-3-3 for the 2020/21 season, as revealed by football.london on August 6.
As a result, Ceballos would be able to pick up where he left off and as Kovacic has done at Chelsea, prove there is life after the flashing lights that come at the Bernabeu.
Unfortunately, for Arsenal, the ball is not currently in their court, but Arteta is keen to get a move done.
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“I am really happy with him, the way he is evolving and I love how much he likes to play football. The passion that he puts in every training session and every game, you have to see just his celebration. Whether he’s on the pitch or on the bench, the way he celebrates, he puts his life into it,” the head coach said on July 6.
“Again, I am really happy with him, I think he’s evolving the right way and is becoming a really important player for us.
“We are talking to the club. Obviously, we don’t own the player, it’s not in our hands so the clubs will need to have communication and see what we can do.”