Yesterday, confirmation of Dani Ceballos’ second loan spell came from the club itself, and I found myself breathing a slight sigh of relief. Not only because acquiring Dani Ceballos on a loan deal that appears to involve no loan fee in return for covering his modest wages seems exactly like the type of move Arsenal should be considering to save their precious funds for longterm pillars of their rebuild, but because it places Arsenal back in a decent spot to start the season.
Much of Arsenal’s late-season success could be attributed to the 3-4-3 formation and partnership between Dani Ceballos and Granit Xhaka. Of course, Aubameyang scoring goals aplenty was huge, but he did that all year. What Arsenal didn’t have all year was a structure that put as many of their best players on the field as possible, while offering a midfield that could protect the backline and dictate to some extent, offering Arsenal consistent results. Certainly there are many things to work on, especially in the chance creation, goals, and shots categories, but it’s hard to argue against our midfield as a whole looking consistently good, as it did down the stretch with Ceballos and Xhaka at the heart of it all.
Going into the very short offseason, I had a lot of concern over Arsenal being able to find a way to start this upcoming season with a sturdy midfield, if they couldn’t find a way to get Ceballos to return. It’s not that I didn’t have faith in the Gunners making their fair share of transfers within the midfield – I did and still do – but it has always been fairly well know that in order to make those purchases, they would first need to sell a significant amount of their players which takes time. But time is not on their side.
With roughly six weeks between the end of their season and the start of the next, it was almost unrealistic to expect such lofty goals from them. Throw in the staggered finishes to each league’s season, the late Champions League finish, teams being relatively unwilling to work through things while still playing, and the fact that players joining from outside the UK are forced to complete a quarantine period – and that challenge gets even tougher.
Dani Ceballos will be forced to miss out on the season opener at Fulham, but should be available for selection against West Ham, which puts Arsenal in a decent position to pick up where they left off just over a month ago. Add in their new signings Gabriel and Willian, as well as the return of William Saliba, and you could argue that Arsenal may start in a better position. At the very least, they can put out nearly the exact squad that brought them the FA Cup and has beaten Liverpool twice, Manchester City, and Chelsea recently. Not a bad place to start.
This year Dani Ceballos has two huge opportunities in my opinion. Not only can he continue to push on and make another leap to bring his game to the next level, but he can be a major crux within Arsenal’s future plans for their midfield’s next evolution.
I think it is nearly a guarantee that he returns to his role within the central pivot of Arteta’s 3-4-3, but he could also play a huge role in making Arteta’s 4-3-3 vision come to life. Based on the skills he showed, he could potentially find himself anchoring two box-to-box, two-way playing midfielders, or even as one of the more attack-minded, box-to-box midfielders. For him to anchor a three man midfield, it would likely require a very strong, self-sufficient backline or a game where Arteta expects to dominate the ball, but its not out of the question.
The third, and potentially more likely, option is a shift back to a 4-2-3-1 formation where he is still a part of the pivot, but some of the defensive responsibilities are shared. So how do we know which one it’s going to be?
To some extent we don’t. Call it the pragmatic charm of Arteta. Mikel has demonstrated the ability to be very flexible within his selection and creative with his tactics – a huge plus overall. But we may get a better idea of the intent if Arsenal do manage to bring in one of their top two midfield targets – Thomas Partey or Houssem Aouar.
Both of these players would demand Arsenal begin to complete some of their outgoing sales in order to fund moves, but it seems as though they could easily slot into Arsenal’s midfield and instantly make an impact.
I have written in the past that I believe Arsenal are missing the central pillar to their rebuild and future plans, and that Thomas Partey could fit the mold. Having just turned 27, he fits the profile of a player in their prime and his ability to carry the ball, play with strength, and move the ball through the lines could be pivotal to the success of Arsenal’s… well, pivot.
It’s not hard for me to imagine Partey playing alongside Ceballos or Xhaka in the central pivot, or being a part of a strong midfield three. He is tidy in tight spaces, strong into tackles, seemingly a great two-way midfielder, and his intelligence and workrate seem to fit what Arteta likes to work with.
On the other hand, Lyon’s Aouar offers a bit more attacking to the role of box-to-box midfielder. I don’t believe that he is the sole injection of creativity Arsenal need, but as an additional cog in the Mikel machine, he would be a fantastic addition and likely the prized possession. At the young age of 22, he is already a Champions League semifinalist and offers an abundance of raw talent just begging for a tactically adept manager and skilled player developer like Arteta to mold him into an even brighter star.
It should be noted that Arsenal have already acquired Willian, and you have to imagine he slots somewhere into Arteta’s plans for the year, which means space within the starting party may be running thin as the air becomes rife with competition.
In any case, I believe Ceballos has the skillset and adaptability to play alongside either of those two additions should Arsenal manage to pull them off, which makes his additional season-long loan a very exciting prospect. He has already made a drastic switch under Arteta’s guidance from an outright attacking midfielder, to a defensively responsible, box-to-box player. It’s hardly difficult to see him being able to morph his game to play alongside one or both of those two great stars with devastating effect and THAT is exciting.
Arsenal seem to be at a standstill with both Atletico Madrid and Lyon while they count up their savings in an attempt to hit the mark. Partey has a 50 million Euro release clause, while Aouar is rumored to likely cost closer to 60 million.
While that saga continues, Arsenal fans can at least rest a little easier knowing that they have a key part of their late season success back for another year, and there is plenty of reason to believe he will only get better.
Alright, leaving it there for today. Hints that Arsenal will play Aston Villa behind closed doors, but suggestions that it wont be filmed again. Hopefully we get a little something to satisfy our appetite for Arsenal before next weekends opener against Fulham!