Dani Ceballos would have been surprised to be on the bench for Arsenal yesterday as they went into the north London derby clash with rivals Tottenham Hotspur at the Emirates Stadium that ended with honours even from a 2-2 draw.
But many keen observers feel that his coach Unai Emery got his team selection spot on, with perhaps one or two dissenting voices when it comes to the continued selection of error-prone Granit Xhaka. As gifted as a player Ceballos is, he could never know the level of intensity at which the derby game is played. Yes, selecting a hard-working trio of Xhaka, Mattéo Guendouzi and Lucas Torreira to try to control the middle of the park was a necessity but it also meant that the creative flair needed to provide ammunition to the front three — namely Nico Pepe, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alex Lacazette — was largely absent.
It seemed as is Emery was prepared to sacrifice guile for graft and in such an important game this was seen to be fair enough. However, when Ceballos — on loan from Spanish giants Real Madrid for the season — was introduced there seemed to be an immediate upsurge in the tempo going forward. Ceballos, who is still aged only 23, enjoyed a superb debut in the 2-1 top-flight victory over Burnley three weeks ago yet seemed to struggle with the physical nature of the game in England when the Gunners lost out to Liverpool last time of asking in a 3-1 defeat at Anfield against the current champions of Europe. One thing is for sure, there is more to come from Ceballos as Arsenal bid for a top four spot.
As mentioned, goals don’t appear to be a problem when it comes to the potency of the Gunners’ attack but it is at the back where improvement can come. And with full-backs such as Hector Bellerin and Kieran Tierney still to come back in to the Arsenal squad, improve it will. Add the boost that a fit Rob Holding can bring and you see that Emery will soon be able to call on a more reliable back four. Ainsley Maitland- Niles has done well but is in no way a traditional right-back and on the opposite flank, Sead Kolašinac is steady — he was excellent especially in the second half against Tottenham yesterday — but hardly a spring chicken and his overall use would be more as a versatile utility man.
Of course, we shouldn’t forget that playmaker Mesut Ozil is in the wings and yet to feature for the Gunners this season. This is entirely baffling and it is suspected that the full story of the relationship between the Germany World Cup winner and the Arsenal coach is yet to be revealed. If he is fit, he is being overlooked. If he is not fit, then why is he on the bench?