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Dani Ceballos at Arsenal: How he's turning up heat on Zidane

COMMENT: Dani Ceballos... myth slayer? He may only be a few weeks into his Arsenal career, but he's making a pretty good job of it.

Back in Spain and back in the La Roja squad this week, Ceballos is making things a little uncomfortable, even tense, for those inside Real Madrid. He may only be on temporary terms in London. And enjoy the backing of Florentino Perez, the club's president. But so long as Zinedine Zidane remains Real coach, there's next to no chance of Ceballos pulling on a Merengues shirt again.

The most successful coach in the club's modern history. The one who returned late last term to rescue them from utter freefall. Well, this season, the crown has slipped. The fans. The media. They're now asking questions of Zidane. As is the president. And playing a significant role in these doubts is Ceballos and his response to being offloaded over the summer.

With his Real team stumbling. With his ageing midfield being outthought and outrun. The spotlight is being shone on Zidane like never before. The reputation is diminishing - and rapidly - as news of Ceballos' impact in the Premier League reaches the Madrid press week-after-week. That Robert Moreno confirmed those reports with a fresh call-up to the Spain squad only further turned up the heat on Zidane and his decision-making.

What Arsenal fans have seen in these opening weeks of the season. What Unai Emery, the Gunners manager, has been able to tap into. It is everything those in-the-know in Spain have always predicted would come from Ceballos. It's why Florentino pushed so hard to beat Barcelona to his signing from Real Betis two years ago. It's why both Julen Lopetegui and Santiago Solari threw him into their starting XIs during their short spells in charge. And it's why Luis Enrique gave Ceballos his first cap last year. For many in Spain, the 23 year-old is the best of his generation. A player to build a national team around, as the U21s did in the summer. Ceballos outstanding in their Euros winning campaign. Everyone can see it. Well, at least, almost everyone...

Ceballos knows where he stands with Zidane. He was told as much last year. Indeed, if not for the Frenchman's resignation, Ceballos would've already been long gone.

"I asked him (Zidane) why he didn't play me because I didn't understand it," he said during Lopetegui's short reign. "He told me to value the players ahead of me. There was a moment in the season when (Toni) Kroos and (Luka) Modric were injured and he changed the system to put in other players. It burns you a little and it hurts."

But now, Ceballos has the chance to respond to Zidane - and in the best way he knows. Rather than being stuck on the bench. Or sulking in the stands. Ceballos has been granted the opportunity by Emery to express himself. And he hasn't let his fans at home down.

Even after failing to get a start against Tottenham on Sunday, Ceballos still showed signs of a man transformed. Arsenal's No8 celebrating Alexandre Lacazette's goal before halftime as passionately as anyone inside the Emirates stadium. The midfielder then remaining on the touchline to rally his teammates on the pitch. He may be currently on-loan, but Ceballos is showing all the signs of being 'all in' as a Gooner.

On the pitch, it's been even more impressive. The early rounds highlighted by a man-of-the-match performance in victory over Burnley no less. A foreign player. An attacking foreign player. And in his first weeks of his Premier League career. To produce such a display is some achievement. But to do it against Sean Dyche's lot is something else - especially in an Arsenal shirt.

You do notice the Gunners boot room haven't mentioned him this season. Since kickoff, there hasn't been the hand-wringing we saw from them over the summer. Arsenal's old number eight is now a fading memory. As his successor has quickly found his feet, Aaron Ramsey has been forced to miss a first Juventus preseason and remains sidelined with a back injury.

All that myth talk from the ex-players. All the claims of how management messed up. It's suddenly fallen silent as Ceballos has made the No8 shirt his own. A month doesn't make a season, but the signs are promising. Ceballos is quickly helping Arsenal's support forget about Ramsey.

Inside Valdebebas the same is true. Shattering the myth around Ramsey's departure is an achievement, but cutting into the reputation of Zizou is something else.

But in these first weeks of a Premier League career, Ceballos is managing do it. And slaying these myths can only mean good things for Arsenal.


Chris Beattie
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Chris Beattie

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