Dani Ceballos — What next?

Sandipani Basu
6 min readMay 12, 2021

The boy from Utrera, Spain is nearing the end of his second loan spell at Arsenal FC. Mikel Arteta now has an important decision to make. The young Spaniard is expected to return to Madrid at the end of the season. Los Blancos have apparently set a transfer fee for the central midfielder. Should Arteta retain him? Well, that is a decision which will be taken based on a host of factors. How has he performed this season? That’s something we’ll take a look at.

Ceballos has been paired with either Granit Xhaka, Thomas Partey or Mohammed Elneny as a double pivot in Arteta’s Arsenal this season. Arsenal have had a poor season all around, right from defending to finishing. They have tried hard but struggled to find the rhythm needed to succeed week in week out. Through injuries and other reasons there has always been a constant change in the defensive mid position which has helped teams lay us bare on certain occasions.

For a defensive midfielder the most important skills are tackles and interceptions. We look at the metric leaders of the Premier League this season.

Note: All midfielders have played a minimum of 1080 minutes this season.

Marco Lemina, the Southampton starlet, on loan at Fulham is a nice addition to this list. Players like Ndidi, Kante, Jorginho and Fred are some of the big names one would expect to see in this list.

The league average of this dataset of midfielders is 4.9(=median). Below are Arsenal’s players this season.

The player in question Dani Ceballos averages 3.57 tackles per 90 which is lower than the league average. Partey with 4.15 tackles/90 is the closest. The team average is 2.003 which clearly signifies the need for urgent changes in the team’s defensive organization.

Dani Ceballos clearly isn’t the best when it comes to tackling. We will get a clearer picture of his tackling efficiency in the scatter plot below.

Note:- Size of markers is indicative of the number of 90s the player has played

As we see Ceballos attempts tackles but has a really poor 26.5% success rate in tackling dribblers. In comparison, Xhaka has really impressed with a 52.5% success. He tackles at least twice per 90. We can say however, that Xhaka with a Tackles+Interceptions/90 = 3 (from the bar chart above) has a tougher time closing the passing lanes by intercepting them. Can we attribute this to his slower reactions or poor positioning? Up for debate.

A third metric we can quantify a defensive midfielder’s quality is through the number of pressures a player applies. Arsenal’s gameplay has seen the team not apply much pressure on the attacking opposition.

Ceballos has attempted to apply the most pressure than all of our midfielders but has been fairly unsuccessful in doing so. In both the plots above we see, Dani Ceballos is trying to help the team in defense(tackling and applying pressure) but is falling short on both the instances.

Defensively, one of my favorite performers in this aspect have been Kalvin Phillips, Fred and Everton’s Allan. Constant performers match after match with the same intensity.

Ceballos’ primary quality though is his progression. As is the cliche, a Spaniard on the ball is a treat to watch. Dani Ceballos is miles ahead of his Arsenal counterparts and the league average in terms of carrying the ball towards the opponent. The skillful central mid averages 2 dribbles per 90 and has a success rate of 72%. These numbers are a significant bump from his time in La Liga where he would be successful only 58% of the times during the 18–19 season with Real Madrid.

Dani Ceballos progression

Along with carrying the ball forward another important trait central midfielders playing in a double pivot possess nowadays is moving the ball ahead through their passes. Again Dani impresses here with his fairly good passing skills.

Even though, as we saw above Partey was having a tough time covering distances with the ball at his feet due to his positional responsibilities and his role in the team, he makes sure the ball reaches ahead. Dani completes close to 6 passes per 90 into the oppositions half as compared to Partey’s 6.6.

Dani Ceballos has an xG Assisted of 2.9 this season lower only than Bukayo Saka and Kieran Tierney in this Arsenal team. With all this progression however, Ceba has had a tough time putting the ball into the penalty area, doing so only 22 times this season. Constant reminder to fall back to help defensively maybe.

In La Liga 18–19 season Dani had created 50 shot creating actions in the 1260 minutes he had played then. With a 3.07 per 90 of such actions this season he has shown his willingness to join the team in attack, often leaving MASSIVE spaces in the back(you give some, you lose a lot :P). His slow pace makes it difficult for him to track back.

Dani has a problem defensively as we have seen in this article. He makes it up with his attacking prowess but at what cost? Does he fit into the Arsenal system which Arteta is trying to build ?

You might have seen Bissouma in almost all of the charts. Lot of chatter surrounding him. Will his arrival give Partey the freedom to be the box to box midfielder that he is? Bissouma, with only 13 key passes and an xG assisted of 1 is a purely defensive midfielder. As we saw in the plots above neither does he carry the ball forward nor does he pass it ahead much. Is that what Arsenal need right now?


Thomas Partey has a tough time playing with Dani Ceballos, since they both have identical forward playing styles. Partey is usually left alone in defensive positions due to Ceballos’ commitment in attack. The addition of a strong defensive midfielder (not Xhaka) who can cut passing lanes and tackle effectively is what the team really needs. Remember Bissouma attempted the most number of tackles with an above average success rate and is ranked 6th in the number of interceptions and tackles per 90. Ceballos and his playing style might not be the need of the hour for this Arsenal team.

Arsenal have players like Torreira and Guendouzi(broken) coming back from their loan spells. These are good squad players and can be worked open. We have a good academy product in Miguel Azeez who can be promoted.

Exciting future and important decision ahead for Mikel Arteta.

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All data has been sourced from —Football reference https://fbref.com/en/



Sandipani Basu

An aspiring data geek with a keen interest in sports analytics, primarily soccer. I am on a gradual learning curve. But as they say good things take time.