Choosing the man of the match in Arsenal’s 2-1 victory over Burnley on Saturday afternoon was not the hardest task Martin Keown has ever encountered. Without a moment’s hesitation the BT Sport co-commentator gave the award to Dani Ceballos, who was head and shoulders above every other player on the Emirates Stadium pitch as Unai Emery’s men made it two wins from two at the start of the 2019/20 campaign.
This was not a flawless performance from the Gunners. Burnley are an awkward team to play against, and the home team struggled to deal with their aerial threat at times. There was also a period where Arsenal found it difficult to create clear-cut chances, and on the balance of play a draw would perhaps have been a fairer result – something backed up by the Expected Goals figures.
Nevertheless, Arsenal fans have cause for positivity ahead of Saturday’s crunch clash with Liverpool, which will patently represent a stiffer test. David Luiz showed on his debut why he is worth the £8m transfer fee that was paid to bring him across London from Chelsea. Aubameyang scored for a second game in a row, and Alexandre Lacazette got off the mark with his first strike of 2019/20. Matteo Guendouzi also performed well in the centre of the park, while Nacho Monreal was his usual reliable self at left-back.
However, Ceballos was by some distance the pick of the bunch. The Spaniard provided two assists and ran the midfield, oozing class with some sublime touches and passes to set Arsenal on the attack. He evaded the Burnley pressure well and looked composed throughout, while he also showed an industriousness which pleased the Emirates faithful.
It was a performance reminiscent of the type regularly delivered by Santi Cazorla in years gone by. Ceballos is considerably taller than his compatriot, who returned to Villarreal in 2017 after an injury-ravaged end to his Arsenal career, but the pair offer similar qualities.
Ceballos, like Cazorla, is excellent at working his way out of tight areas, with his balance and skill both in evidence at the weekend. Crucially, he is always willing to receive the ball from those behind him, and tries to move it forward whenever possible.
Ceballos created four chances against Burnley, more than any other player on the park. He also successfully completed all four of his attempted dribbles, and ended the match with a pass completion rate of 90 per cent.
“He is someone who loves to play football and do his job,” Luiz said of his new team-mate after Saturday’s success. “He is showing exactly what he is as a player, someone who loves to get on the ball and take the game [to the opposition].
“I was so happy because he played an amazing game and I hope he can keep improving. He played at a different level and it was good for everybody.”
The loan deal which took Ceballos from Real Madrid to Arsenal does not include an option for the north Londoners to buy the midfielder outright. If he maintains Saturday’s level of performance for the remainder of the campaign, Zinedine Zidane will no doubt be keen to bring him back to the Santiago Bernabeu. For now, though, Arsenal supporters have the chance to marvel at Cazorla’s successor.