Can Dani Ceballos shine again for Arsenal or is he destined to become 2020's Denis Suarez?
Stuart MacFarlane/Arsenal FC via Getty Images)

The Spanish have a name for it: Illusion.

It is one of those words that defies simple translation.

Illusion is best described as ability to fox, bewilder, beguile and confuse - all in the name of flair on the field of play.

The Spaniard's time so far

Dani Ceballos displayed the very best notions of such a loaded word last summer, on his memorable debut for Arsenal against Burnley at the Emirates after arriving on a season long loan from Real Madrid.

Who remembers - with a smile in these deepest, dark midwinter days - the promise he showed on his first Premier League outing, back when the sun shone and hope was rife. 

It feels so long ago, before Unai Emery's muddled Gunners misfired so badly over the autumn, forcing conversation to turn from Champions League ambitions to, preposterously, fears of avoiding relegation, in a dismal run which culminated in the unfortunate Spaniard's sacking.

Yet, back in August, Ceballos dazzled in a debut as exciting as it was efficient.

Two assists, highest number of passes, best pass accuracy, the most dribbles from any player on the pitch - not to mention firing off three shots - as he prompted Arsenal to outclass Sean Dyche's more prosaic Clarets 2-1 on a carefree, sunny summer Saturday.

No wonder the Emirates crowd lustily chorused the attacker's name that long-lost afternoon.

However, the offerings since then have been scant. 

The Andalusian from Utrera, the same southern town near Seville as his much-mourned compatriot Jose Antonio Reyes hailed from, has only taken part in nine league games matches, starting five. A poor return for such talent and promise. 

The fact he has failed to record an assist since bamboozling Burnley has only added to the confusion.

Is he a number 10 in the Mesut Ozil mould? A wider player to complement Nicolas Pepe on the opposite flank? Or a creative talent who can operate in a deeper role, pulling the strings with exceptional vision ala his much-loved compatriot Santi Cazorla.

Or is he this season's Denis Suarez?

Suarez, it must be recalled, arrived this time last year, from Barcelona no less, to much fanfare as an attacking talent who could influence matches through his creativity, in a bid to boost Arsenal up the table.

Unfortunately the hapless, and it has to be said in mitigation, injury-prone Suarez, departed before the end of his six month deal, hamstrung and disillusioned after an underwhelming stay in north London saw him labelled the worst loan deal in Arsenal's history.

A worryingly poor description if you recall Kim Kallstrom and his bad back. 

Because for every Cesc Fabregas and Nacho Monreal there is a Lucas Perez to add to Suarez on the list of hugely talented Spanish footballers who have failed to shine for Arsenal in the maelstrom of England's top division. 

Will Ceballos join that list?

Arteta at least clarified where he thinks Ceballos is most effective when he admitted he saw him operating in the final third, far closer to the box than a creative talent who has to drop deep to influence proceedings.

Yet, the impressive Arsenal head coach, who is busy revitalising the club and the squad from top to bottom, appears still not to be convinced by Ceballos.

Despite being fully fit, if not match fit, Ceballos was omitted from Arteta's squad which made the short trip to take on Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park on Saturday.

It was a damming indictment on where the ruthless boss of the Gunners places the Bernabeu loanee in the scheme of things. 

While the Gunners had their travails in a tough match which ended in a 1-1 draw, attacking wise, not many would have argued with Arteta's decision to leave Ceballos out of the visit to south London.

The former Arsenal midfielder has employed a 4-2-3-1 formation since assuming the role late last month.

With Ozil in the middle of an attacking trident also featuring Pepe there seems little hope of Ceballos breaking into that line-up.

His fall from grace is compounded even further when you consider there will be a reshuffle in light of the loss of first member of the attacking midfielder triumvirate, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang - after it was confirmed the captain will endure a three match ban following his reckless tackle on Palace's Max Meyer, which saw VAR upgrade a yellow card to a straight red.

Yet despite a midfield slot freed up through that untimely suspension, it is unlikely Ceballos will earn a reprieve, especially if Arteta switches to a 4-4-2 against Sheffield United on Saturday, in a bid to accommodate young tyro Eddie Nketiah, alongside the desperately out of form Alex Lacaztte up front.

As an aside on striking options, Arteta is seriously considering the considerable merits of the industrious Gabriel Martinelli starting against Chris Wilder's well-organised side alongside Lacazette - or even in place of the former Lyon striker, it has to be said.

Equally, Ceballos would not be considered for a slot in the starting XI even if defensive midfielder Lucas Torreira is not fit enough to play on Saturday against the Blades - because Matteo Guendouzi would be drafted as a defensive minded replacement in midfield, either as a deep lying pairing, or as part of a central four. 

Striking options and defensive midfield cover aside, there is no way Ceballos would break into a midfield four containing the two defensive lynchpins in Torreira or Guendouzi, and the rehabilitated Granit Xhaka, recalled from his spell in the wilderness - not if you factor Pepe and Ozil into the equation.

Likewise if Arteta opts to maintain an attacking trio behind a single striker it is hard to envisage Ceballos being given the nod anywhere across the middle. 

Perhaps Ceballos could take note of the road to redemption from midfielder Xhaka, who many thought would never play for Arsenal again after his public show of petulance in the home match against Palace back in October. 

Yet, it is not a poor attitude that is costing Ceballos.

By all accounts he has worked hard to regain fitness after a frustrating two month sabbatical thanks to a niggly hamstring problem which proved far more troublesome than first expected. 

The problem is more where can he fit in for a side that is being upgraded by Arteta.

Bar his Burnley heroics, there is not much of a back catalogue to argue in his favour.

With only a single goal to his name in the colours of red and white, a Europa League effort against Standard Liege at the Emirates back in October, Ceballos only has time on the manicured training pitches of the club's headquarters, London Colney, to stake a claim.

Arteta's view

In response to a question from VAVEL on whether he sees Ceballos as part of his plans for the rest of the season during his weekly press conference at London Colney, Arteta responded, insisting the attacking midfielder was still very much in his plans for the rest of the season.

"Yes," he said. "Dani had an injury where he was out for almost two months and had to go to Madrid for his rehab. 

"He came back and in the first few weeks, I didn’t think that he was physically at the level to compete for starting games. 

"It’s true that I have players in that position who have been performing really well, and last week when I believed that he was ready to step in, I decided to pick another player. 

"But he’s been training good, I’m happy with him and I know him really well, so there’s no issues there."

It would be heartening if Ceballos, Arsenal fans, and perhaps Arteta himself, actually believed those words. 

Because there is another Spanish word which perfectly summed up Ceballos and his memorable debut display against Burnley last August, which, in the depths of midwinter, seems so long ago: desequilibro.

Desequillibro, loosely translated, means an ability to break free from a tactical stranglehold to influence a game through creative flair and of course, illusion.

If only Ceballos could offer such garlands again for Arsenal.

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