Dani Ceballos has the talent to be Arsenal's strongest link between midfield and attack

It was a case of when he would leave, and not if, for Dani Ceballos this summer. He'd been so clearly frozen out at Real Madrid, never close to entering Zinedine Zidane's thoughts, that the Spanish midfielder simply had to move on. After strong links with AC Milan and Tottenham Hotspur, it was Arsenal who persuaded Ceballos to join them instead.

Unai Emery's reported assurances that Ceballos will play "40 games or more" next season were vital in the 21-year-old ending up at the Emirates. Restricted to just 13 La Liga starts last season, there's a desire on the part of the player to get regular first-team football with a view to making the Spain squad for Euro 2020 next summer.

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He has already shone this summer while captaining the Spain Under-21 side, guiding them to a European Championship triumph. Arsenal will hope Ceballos can have a similar impact on their own fortunes this upcoming season.

Where he comes from

Utrera, Spain: the same place another former Arsenal star, the late Jose Antonio Reyes, was born. Ceballos is a passionate, fiery character who is always looking to have an impact on every game he plays.

After he started out at Sevilla before being released due to a health issue, it wasn't until he moved on to their great rivals, Real Betis, that Ceballos' career took off. His rapid rise through the youth ranks saw him skip the B team and move straight into the first-team setup, though his debut was hardly one to remember, as it came on the day that Betis were relegated from the Spanish top flight. In his first full season, however, Ceballos would play 33 times and inspire the club to an immediate La Liga return.

After two more impressive seasons, he produced an inspired string of performances at the 2017 European Under-21 Championships. That tournament put him on the map but after plenty of speculation surrounding his future, Real Madrid would eventually secure his signature. Ceballos has cut a frustrated figure since joining, with a lack of game time -- just 35 appearances in two seasons -- and belief in his ability meaning a move away was needed to reignite his career.


Ceballos is a hybrid between a No. 8 and a No. 10, capable of playing deeper in midfield or alongside a more defensive midfielder, taking the ball with a view to dictating play. However, he's also able to play further up the pitch as a 10 and provide a creative spark: Ceballos has the vision and ability to dribble with the ball, unlocking defences and taking opponents out of their comfort zones. Andres Iniesta was his idol as a youngster and there are shades of the Barcelona great in how Ceballos drives forward when in possession of the ball.

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Emery could use him paired with a holding midfielder in a 4-2-3-1 or play him at the top of a midfield trio in a 4-3-3. On occasion, Ceballos has played out wide with license to cut inside and add depth to the centre of midfield. With a small Arsenal squad and Aaron Ramsey no longer around, Ceballos should offer some much-needed tactical flexibility.

Strengths and style

Ceballos is a helpful player in that he always wants to be on the ball. No matter if Arsenal are winning, drawing or losing, he'll still have that desire to control from the middle of the field and try to make things happen. He's not a player who hides from the action if things aren't going well. He also has a good awareness of tempo in games; one moment he can slow things down, link play and settle his team, but he can also grab a game by the scruff of the neck and turn up the speed.

In terms of raw attributes, Ceballos has both excellent passing ability and technique in possession. He can keep a game flowing with short and long passes and is rarely flustered in possession. In the aggressive cauldron of the Premier League, his close control will be extremely helpful.


It was clear in his final season with Real that a lack of regular first-team football has left Ceballos short of maturity as a player. The lack of opportunities in Spain meant he would overextend himself in limited minutes off the bench; now that he's expected to play regularly for Arsenal, he'll need to curb his instincts at times and concentrate on making better decisions in games. He's still a little raw but with regular first-team football and the odd mistake, he should have the chance to learn and develop.

So was he a flop at Real Madrid or was there more to it?

Not in the slightest. Ceballos arrived at a time when Real Madrid had one of the most dominant and successful midfield trios in football. Casemiro, Toni Kroos and Luka Modric have been inseparable and Zidane is notoriously stubborn when it comes to change, which has been to the detriment of players on the fringes of the first team.

Ceballos didn't let anyone down when given a chance and there were no high-profile errors; he simply wasn't given enough opportunities or faith. Emery, it seems, has promised him the opposite.

He looks a bit on the small side. Is he a bit lightweight for the Premier League?

Quite the contrary. Ceballos is a tough kid, always targeted for rough treatment ever since he was at the youth level. At the 2019 U-21 European Championships, Italy made a point of singling him out as the player they needed to disrupt but Ceballos took it in stride. If anything, it only spurred him on.

As a creative midfielder, Ceballos was often pressed in midfield and put under physical pressure but he has the ability to squirm out of the tightest situations. Let him get to grips with the pace of the game in England, and then watch him fly.

Who else is a fan?

When Luis Enrique was Spain manager, he took the unprecedented step of calling Ceballos up despite his lack of game time at club level, a sure sign of just how highly he rated the player.

"Dani is a special player, there aren't many like him in football," Enrique said. "He did the same with the Spain U-21s that he did with the full Spain team. Very few players can do those things."