Wearing Arsenal’s no.8 shirt has proved something of a blessing during the Premier League era.
First came Ian Wright, who broke north London goalscoring records before a mercurial Frenchman came along.
Next up was Freddie Ljungberg who, when not modelling Calvin Kleins, could be found marauding up and down the Invincibles’ flanks.
Samir Nasri’s Premier League Team of the Season displays during the 2010/11 campaign were the best of his career, while Mikel Arteta won back-to-back FA Cups wearing the numero ocho.
Aaron Ramsey went one better, adding the 2017 FA Cup to his trophy cabinet before hot-footing it to Turin to play alongside Cristiano Ronaldo at Juventus.
The hardened Arsenal Fan TV subscribers among you will have twigged that there’s one link missing, but the less said about Lassana Diarra’s spell at the Emirates the better.
Judging by Dani Ceballos’ home debut, the latest incumbent of Arsenal’s no.8 shirt will continue the trend of those that came before him.
A first Premier League start against Burnley’s streetwise duo of Jack Cork and Ashley Westwood, not to mention Sean Dyche’s smothering tactics, could have resulted in an uncomfortable afternoon for the Spaniard.
But Ceballos navigated everything that was thrown at him with imperious ease.
At one point he removed his boots, replaced them with a pair of velvet slippers and set about teaching Cork and Westwood the art of salsa.
The softness of Ceballos’ first touch, coupled with an unerring appreciation of those around him, meant Burnley never got near the 23-year-old.
No one had more touches, made more passes or completed more dribbles than Arsenal’s new no.8 who, somewhat confusingly, operated in the no.10 role to near perfection.
None of which should come as a massive shock.
Ceballos made his Real Betis debut at the age of 17 without a single appearance for the Andulasians’ B-team under his belt.
It would be his only appearance of the 2013/14 La Liga campaign as Betis found themselves relegated, but the following season Ceballos helped his hometown club back to the top flight at the first time of asking.
Since then Ceballos has signed for Real Madrid in a €18million deal, won the Champions League, UEFA Super Cup, two FIFA Club World Cups and a Spanish Super Cup, as well as European Championships with Spain at Under-19 and Under-21 level.
Ceballos is already a key part of Roberto Moreno’s new-look Spain squad, for whom he’s won six caps.
In short, were it not for Zinedine Zidane’s distrust of no.10s in his current Madrid setup then Ceballos would never have found himself temporarily loaned out to continue his development under Unai Emery.
Gunners fans won’t care how the Spaniard ended up in north London, but watching the 23-year-old could prove to be a bittersweet experience.
Arsenal failed to secure a permanent purchase agreement when striking a deal for Ceballos, complicating a potential move come the end of the campaign.
For every starring performance the midfielder puts in in the Premier League, the calls to find a place for him amongst the star-studded roster at the Bernabeu will grow louder.
Luka Modric turns 34 next month, while Toni Kroos enters the dirty thirties in January.
Future-proofing the centre of Madrid’s midfield will therefore be a priority for Zidane in the next 12 months, although that could change if Florentino Perez’s pursuit of Paul Pogba is successful.
In Ceballos Madrid have a homegrown talent capable of taking his place alongside Los Blancos‘ illustrious stars.
Whether Madrid’s loss will be Arsenal’s permanent gain remains to be seen.
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