Twisting players for fun, playing full backs into dangerous situations, beating a press like as though there isn't one and retaining the ball better than any Arsenal midfielder since Santi Cazorla. These were my first impressions of Dani Ceballos in an Arsenal shirt, as he put in a top class display against Burnley in his first start for the club.
However, since then - His performance levels have taken a dip. He looked like a shadow of the player he was against Burnley. But before dismissing him as an outright flop, it is imperative to look into why his performance levels fell than just looking things at face value.
Unai Emery had this obsession of playing central midfielders more advanced. He played Dani Ceballos who is more of an #8 behind the striker as a #10. This is a classic example of how not to play to someone's strengths. It is important to look at what Ceballos can do and what he cannot.
Expecting Ceballos to be the sole creator and being heavily reliant on him playing the final ball is not what he is about. That is something Mesut Ozil can do. Ceballos' best attribute is his ability to evade a press and get players like Ozil who are adept in the final phase into acres of space. He is also very good in tight spaces and can wriggle his way out of tricky situations. Even if he is not a final third player, he's a good passer. Getting full backs into dangerous situations, playing a pass through a crowded area and improvising his pass through some flick or trick during combination play and switching play from side to side is what he specializes in.
An area of his game he needs to work on more is defending. Establishing himself in a deeper role would entail discipline. Ceballos sometimes has the habit of getting sucked in by the opposition. He is someone who always wants the ball and while this can be a positive, it does not come without its downsides. He isn't athletic enough to get back in time. Our midfield should be the spine of the team. Santi Cazorla, in the later part of his career moved deeper. He wasn't athletic, nor was he quick, but he maintained position and dictated proceedings from deep. This is not to suggest Ceballos should never leave his position to press the opposition. He just needs to learn when to press and when to maintain his position. The good thing is that Ceballos is well aware of his tendency to get attracted towards the ball. He spoke about this in his very first interview for the club and said the one thing he wants to improve at Arsenal under Unai Emery is his positioning.
Sometimes, it seems like as though he over-complicates his game and tries too many tricks but I would put that down to Unai Emery's system. Literally everything went through the full backs. The central midfielders had one job and that was to play the full back into space. When those passing lanes are cut out, Ceballos has no choice but to try and create an opening by himself. When you watch him play for Spain, there is fewer tricks involved. Everyone is on the same wavelength and the system is conducive for players like Ceballos to thrive. It is also important to consider that Ceballos is just 23, coming to new league and has also had his fair share of injury issues. These have acted as a deterrent to him showing us his potential.
While it is still early days, Mikel Arteta is showing good signs of implementing a style of play that would suit creative players. There is an emphasis on playing Mesut Ozil into space by breaking the lines. Ceballos excels at this. Arteta would be a good mentor for Ceballos. They are both quite similar physically. When you don't have the athleticism, you need to be intelligent. Arteta had this intelligence during his playing days. He spoke about having his players 'understand the picture'. I love this term because this is basically knowing when to do what, which calls for intelligence.
With Zinedine Zidane and Ceballos not always seeing eye to eye, it opens up an opportunity for Arsenal to sign the player permanently, with Florentino Perez even stating they would revisit the deal at the end of the season. But for this to become a reality, he needs to show more consistency and Mikel Arteta could be the catalyst to unlock Dani Ceballos' undoubted potential.