Search icon


17th Aug 2019

Dani Ceballos has already breathed new life into Arsenal

Kyle Picknell

Dani Ceballos was imperious on his Arsenal debut

How fitting that one of the most technically gifted midfielders the Emirates has seen in a long time is only here for a season. How very Arsenal. Let’s not go overboard, though. Pirouetting around Ashley Westwood for 80 minutes is hardly the most monumental of achievements. Even so, Ceballos was something of a glorious revelation for Arsenal, creating his own time and space with side-jinking, hip-shimmying, fleetfooted magic.

Having him play at the base of midfield alongside Matteo Guendouzi gave the Gunners a different gear against a rugged, irritating Burnley side. They looked far silkier than they have in a long time.

Arsenal opened the scoring through Lacazette, who somehow managed to keep his composure with Erik Pieters attempting to clamber all over him like a jockey mounting a horse and fire between the legs of Nick Pope. Perhaps deservedly, Burnley were gifted an equaliser after Dwight McNeil cut inside from the left flank and his deflected cross fell straight to the feet of that infamous nuisance-in-chief Ashley Barnes.

At the break, Unai Emery introduced the 72 million pound man Nicolas Pepe and Arsenal began to dominate. Bar a raucous surge downfield early after his introduction and sending Ben Mee for a hotdog with a devastating turn later on, however, the Ivorian international was fairly quiet. Everything Arsenal did went through the other new boy Ceballos. His link-up play with Nacho Monreal, who was bright throughout, was superb and he repeatedly hijacked pockets of space between the Burnley lines. No easy feat given that it is, indeed, Burnley, and freedom to play is often hard to come by in their ranks.

When Arsenal retook the lead thanks to a scintillating drop of the shoulder and finish from Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang, it was still Ceballos’ doing. He gave the ball away in midfield after an ambitiously attempted crossfield pass was closed down but snapped alive to win the ball back from Gudmundsson. Once Aubameyang had carried the ball to the edge of the box and slammed a shot past Pope into the bottom corner the Spaniard sprinted off to the corner flag on his own to bask in the embrace of the crowd. And it was deserved.

The mood at the Emirates seemed to be one of quiet jubilation. This is, after all, the best start to the season Arsenal have had since the 09/10 season – the last time they won their opening two games. Beyond that, a hugely positive transfer window, lack of Shkodran Mustafi and the promise of Kieran Tierney to come are great signs. Even greater was the weird calmness of David Luiz on his debut, who played the game at his own pace – glacial – but with an assertiveness and authority that belies his ridiculous hair, and occasionally ridiculous decision making. One trademark thumping long ball that set Aubameyang loose in behind the Burnley back four aside, you barely noticed him playing. Which can only ever be seen as a remarkable improvement given Arsenal’s recent history of catastrophic ineptitude at the back.

After the game, the Brazilian told his post-match interviewer that Arsenal could be much better. He’s right of course, but following a gritty 1-0 win at Newcastle, and now this, against one of the most troublesome teams in the league, it appears that Arsenal are trending in the right direction. There has been little drama. No sign of collapse. Say whatever to the narrow margins of victory, the mental aspect of their game appears to be a world away from last season’s crumbly, erratic iteration.

For that, both Emery and the players themselves deserve immense credit. Particularly Ceballos, who, in a single performance, looks as though he has just set the bold, defiant tone for the rest of Arsenal’s season.