ARSENAL’S creative hub is brimming with excitement – and it all starts with Dani Ceballos.
Now all they need to do is find their clinical edge as they return to north London knowing their 1-1 draw at the Stadio Olimpico was a missed opportunity.
Dani Ceballos has emerged as the leading light in Arsenal’s midfieldCredit: Reuters
The Spaniard showed his presence again in the draw with BenficaCredit: AFP OR LICENSORS
Mikel Arteta opted to name an unchanged XI for a European game following a league match for the first time since 2015 after demolishing Leeds at the weekend.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang grabbed a hat-trick, and the performances of Emile Smith Rowe, Bukayo Saka and Martin Odegaard shone through.
But it has gone unnoticed how the Real Madrid loanee Ceballos is allowing them to tick with his infectious work rate, demanding presence, and bravery on the ball.
He grabbed an assist against Leeds, and was at his assertive and direct best against Benfica – let down by some poor finishing by the Gunners’ normally reliable front men.
With the injury to Thomas Partey keeping the £45m man out of action, the spot alongside the more robust, stand-still and protective Granit Xhaka has been available.
And Ceballos has taken it with open arms, hence why Arteta now trusts the Spaniard in his midfield to start attacks and occupy opposition presses with his quick turns on the ball, as well as his ambition to run forward into spaces with and without the ball.
Since arriving on loan from Madrid at the start of last season, his time in north London has been littered with moments like this, but bogged down by inconsistent displays around it.
It seems now that after 18 months at the Emirates, we are finally seeing the Ceballos that was tipped in his teenage days as Spain’s brightest and most talented midfield maestro.
It is why he has started six of Arsenal’s last seven games in all competitions.
And if reports are to be believed, £25m to keep him at the club for the foreseeable future would be some bargain.
That talent was on show in Rome as Ceballos opened up Benfica’s experienced defence with cutting through balls in the first-half.
It was one of these balls from deep that set Hector Bellerin into the box before Aubameyang somehow skewed his effort from six yards wide.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang suffered another poor night in front of goalCredit: Getty Images – Getty
Bukayo Saka hit the equaliser in Arsenal’s 1-1 drawCredit: Getty Images – Getty
And in the second-half – minutes before their leveller – his cute back-heeled flick higher up the pitch provided Saka with a chance he normally buries.
As Arsenal fought for the winner, his ability to mix it physically proved helpful in midfield too.
But it’s his trickery with his feet, like the young stars ahead of him, that now sees him a key cog in Arteta’s ever-improving machine.
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