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The Ceballos Experiment

It makes economical sense.

Not that being frugal has ever really applied to football transfers, but the increasing frequency of top clubs looking at a loan move instead of a full transfer is probably buoyed by this fact as well as one other.

It enables a club to see if a target is indeed the correct fit for the team. The many variables that can mean the difference between a seamless transition for a player and a failed experiment that could lead to a broken dressing room.

It comes down to much more than if a new signing can deliver the goods on the pitch. If they are a jarring influence in the dressing room, on the training pitch, then it can be almost as disastrous as a lack of performances on the turf.

They may struggle with authority figures, they could even end up simply hating the area of the UK that they live in.

All of these factors can be given the litmus test with a loan, and Dani Ceballos was beginning to look like a real boon for Arsenal.

The Spaniard arrived with quite the fanfare. Ceballos was hot property and not many foresaw the talented playmaker coming to struggling Arsenal. The fans loved it, despite Ceballos’ insistence that he didn’t want to extend his stay at the club beyond the season’s arrangement. He wanted Real Madrid and this trial would enable Ceballos to not only remind Head Coach Zinedine Zidane of his potential – but it could also allow him to force his way into Spain’s Euro reckoning.

What did he need to do the above? He needed games, regular and with a degree of success. If Ceballos could benefit his loan club, then he could look forward to a fruitful future at the club he adores – as well as a busy summer with his national side.

It all started so well too.

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Ceballos was a rare bright spot for Arsenal as we began the season in patchy form. His touch and instant ease with which he interacted with his teammates with the ball was a ray of optimism. So much so that when he was injured against Europa League opponents Vitoria, our fans lamented his absence.

And rightfully so to a degree. After Ceballos’ bright start, we were able to see how his presence could possibly benefit us – but he faded rapidly. Before his injury he had been consigned to the bench, a series of cameo’s was how Ceballos didn’t want to be operating.

We had all expected Ceballos to continue his form, but he tailed off, his adaptation to the Premiership not quite complete.

Upon his return to fitness, he has found his way to the first team blocked once again, as new boss Mikel Arteta has preferred other options other than his compatriot in his selections. We have seen nothing from Ceballos on the pitch, and it is with no surprise that his loan deal was discussed to be terminated early.

The very reason why Ceballos wanted to join Arsenal on loan was also the catalyst why he wanted to leave early. He needed gametime, and he was not getting anything at Arsenal.

It may have left our squad a man lighter than before, but why keep a player that presents no future with us?

We should instead use those minutes that would otherwise have gone to Ceballos, to develop a youngster who can push us forward in seasons to come. It makes us stronger, and Arsenal should come first. It means that if Ceballos continues to ride the bench, it’s positive for another player who represents the future of the club.

This of course isn’t transpiring – Arsenal and arteta want Ceballos to stay and fight for his place, but does he have the hunger to do so?

A loan move that terminates early may fall short of the ultimate aim – to acquire a road-tested player who can hit the ground running.

It does though, enable us to avoid another costly error that leaves us lumbered with a wantaway player who doesn’t deliver the goods. Such are our struggles, we need every player on the books to be facing the right way and playing well.

Hector On The Rise

Hector Bellerin is far more effective than people give him credit for.

The Spaniard wasn’t the only one to fail to reach their best last season, as the wheels came off in what was Wenger’s final season.

Yet, the defender was labelled as a poor defender, a liability. Bellerin had hit the wall, he wouldn’t progress further.

This season, under new boss Unai Emery, Bellerin has risen to the occasion and played out of his skin thus far, in both defence and attack. Despite this, Bellerin has still had his critics, throwing the same barbs as before.

What isn’t highlighted, is that Bellerin is doing the work of two men, and performing near-miracles on the right hand side.

Unai Emery seems to prefer a 4-2-3-1, but has shown he can vary his approach. His favoured formation though, is leaving Bellerin wide open to salvo’s from the opposition, yet the Spanish defender is on the money and giving everything to keep the leaks to a bare minimum.

With the new regime, we are obviously suffering some teething problems at the back. Playing out from deep, in the face of an effective press, will require more practice and time. The new instructions and pairings are gelling together slowly but surely.

So a drought of clean sheets is to be expected. However, if it wasn’t for the engine of Bellerin and his vastly improving defensive skills, we would have conceded far more – and scored a fair amount less too.

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Our manbun-sporting defender has been a huge asset in our attack, linking up at nearly every opportunity with our attacking quartet. He is grabbing assists and more often than not, testing the opposition keeper every game.

If you check social media or newspaper ratings though, you could be forgiven for thinking you watched the wrong player. A raft of 5’s and 6’s, labelled weak in defence, Bellerin apparently can’t escape the mediocre tag even when he’s playing well.

There is a lot of focus on Bellerin simply because there is a lot of possession going down his side, and with Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Aaron Ramsey and/or Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Bellerin is receiving zero cover.

Considering Bellerin is defending his entire flank by himself, it means that his forays forward need to be timed better than ever, otherwise he will – and the team will – be horribly exposed. So for Bellerin to have his best start to a season as an attacking player is evidence that he is using his footballing brain – he has evolved.

He is doing double the work, and is having his most effective season thus far. It is easy to forget he is still only 23. Ask any other right-back in the Premier League to put in his miles, make as much impact in the attacking third and also keep it as tight as he has?

I am convinced that none of his positional cohorts could manage what he has done.

Is it the arrival of an established rival that has pushed him on? In Stephane Lichtsteiner, Bellerin has massive pressure to keep his performances optimal, as he will be well aware that Lichtsteiner can stepin and keep him on the bench for an extended time.

Perhaps it is the threat of losing his place, maybe it is the fact he is learning and simply improving.

Either way, we have a right-back that is one of the best at both ends of the pitch – no matter what experts and some fans say.

Adios Santi Cazorla – The Smiling Spaniard

Santi Cazorla is set to rejoin his former club, Villareal – and the news is another departure that is hard to swallow.

The Spaniard has been fighting hard for over 18 months to return from a horror injury that nearly claimed his leg, and upon seeing the first images of the sunny Spaniard’s return to training, social media was awash with not only nostalgia – but genuine warmth.

Because Santi Cazorla unites our fans. He is one of those rare breeds that no matter what end of the fan spectrum you are, you cannot help but love the man.

It has helped inexorably that he is perhaps one of the most talented players we have ever had at the club – and his departure and injury that cost him 18 months of playing time will cast a shadow over his time as a Gunner.

The diminutive midfielder is also two-footed – so much so that it is hard to tell which is his natural side and which did he work on tirelessly on the training field at. This ability puts him above most, and also helped out in tight situations.

Santi Cazorla is often described as one of the most blessed his teammates have ever seen – even when compared to Mesut. He has been a source of joy when on the ball, and his talents should be held up to young players as a target to aim for. Should any kid make it and have Santi’s level of skill on his left and right foot? He’ll be destined for greatness -but he’ll need another of Santi’s attributes to succeed too – appetite.

This hunger formed the foundation for his transition from playmaker to a central role – and is probably the biggest testament to his worth.

His success in the middle of the park showed that he wasn’t a one-trick pony. He could create openings in tight games, but his desire saw him outmuscle players he had no right to, and his carrying of the ball forward at the tight times, smacked of tactical acumen and bags of skill.

The thing that us fans will remember above all though?

He played with a smile on his face. He loved the game, he genuinely enjoyed wearing our colours, and he gave everything to us when he was on the pitch.

Villareal will most likely be his last club before retirement, should he return to full fitness. The La Liga club have prior history with our talent – having taken Robert Pires from us when he departed.

We were robbed of what could have been the start of a budding partnership with Aaron Ramsey thanks to his troublesome achilles, and his subsequent recuperation was watched avidly by us all – for two reasons.

Firstly, we knew how much our team could benefit from having a fit Cazorla in our side.

Secondly, we all just missed seeing him.

He possesses the talent to change defence to attack, to grab the ball to stem a tide, to transform what is a tricky scenario into a promising one.

The end of his career is similar to Tomas Rosicky’s in a way.

Both were talented midfielders, blessed with a velvet touch. They also held the affection of all fans. Injury stole some of their time with us, but the ending will be the same too.

We will look at Cazorla the same way as we do at Tomas.

With misty-eyed nostalgia – and gratitude.

Will Santi Cazorla come back?

Posted on Goonersphere.

On the eve of his team’s game against Chelsea, Manchester United boss Jose Mourinho lauded himself for not repeatedly moaning about Paul Pogba’s absence.

The Portuguese manager told the attending press that it would be easy to continuously mention being unable to call on the French midfielder.


Pogba has missed two months of the season so far. Santi Cazorla has missed a little over a year.


The tiny Spaniard has attracted a fair amount of interest in the last few weeks, even though he hasn’t kicked a ball in anger for quite some time. Cazorla’s blighted ankle has been big news, aided by the image of the suspect joint that leaves viewers in no uncertain terms what the midfielder has had to endure.







Pogba may have the ridiculous transfer fee and his whole career ahead of him, but Cazorla is no less important to Arsenal. This may be a sad indictment of our team, how over-reliant we are on a 33 year old, but it’s still the truth.


Santi Cazorla’s transformation from playmaker to midfield all-rounder was aided by his versatility. The man with a right foot as good as his left showed he can run a midfield as well as cut open defences with his wits. It is his intelligence that is so important to our team though. The reason he works so well in the engine room is because he knows exactly when to make his move. He rarely leaves us wide open as he can read the game so well.


Since his departure, we have looked so brittle at times. Trying to forge the chemistry between two players takes time, so we won’t see the best of Granit Xhaka and Aaron Ramsey for a while. The ebb and flow of a pivot is still jarring at points in a game and it is costing us.


Santi Cazorla is a complete player, and we can only lament the fact he is on the cusp of the end of his career. A fit and firing Santi, five years younger, would dominate games and win awards.


It took a couple of seasons to see this version of our Spaniard. His first season saw him in his preferred spot of creator, but the arrival of Mesut Ozil meant a switch to a wide berth and he was starved of the thing that makes him come alive – the ball.


It was only when he took a central midfield spot that we saw he can not only supply a striker, he can also win the ball.

Santi is a complete player. His injury has meant Mesut Ozil has to drop deeper to claim possession in an attempt to galvanise our attack. He is missing the bridge that Santi provided.


The gruesome image of Cazorla’s tattooed arm skin grafted onto his ankle highlights how far he is away from returning – if he does so at all. We talk all the time about irreplaceable players, and Santi Cazorla fits into that category.


If the Spaniard was in our team now, then we would have a team that was fully firing in all sectors, instead of a midfield that is hindered by a lack of chemistry.








Yet, Arsene Wenger rarely mentions his injury other than when directly questioned. Perhaps it is because he has had ample time to find a replacement, or maybe it is because he prefers to concentrate on the players in the team. Either way, Santi is attempting to make a comeback with the full support of the club.


There aren’t many players that can hold a candle to Cazorla’s talent. If we are lucky enough to see him in our midfield again, we should thank our lucky stars and enjoy our inevitable upsurge in results and form.


Santi makes us tick like no one else. 

Farewell, Jon Toral

We never quite got to know the REAL Jon Toral.

Precisely zero appearances for the first team smacks of a player that never quite made the grade at our club, but there is a tinge of sadness with the Spaniard signing a permanent deal at Hull City.

Toral, still only 22, seemed destined for the biggest stage when he signed with us back in 2014. His showings for the Reserves were impressive, and loan spells soon followed for the youngster to truly test the midfielder and see whether he could convert his bags of potential into that sprinkling of magic that all top players have.

Brentford and Birmingham City were his first ports of call, both season-long loans designed to check his progress. Both times he left the clubs with glowing references. At Birmingham especially, he returned to Arsenal with the Goal of the Season and the Players and Supporters Player of the Year awards safely tucked in his belt.

His showings smacked of a clever player with composure, who could work openings. The Spaniard had been hewn from La Masia stock, and his touch and passing reeked of Catalonia. He looked to be the real deal.

Injuries had hampered the youngster a tad, but crucially he did not take long to get back to speed after a layoff. An injury in a loan spell is usually the death knell to any opportunity, so in cahoots with his talent, he also had a mental resolve that was required too.

The next season though, was when Toral hit a hurdle or two. 

Another loan spell beckoned, and it was a step up from his spells in the Championship. Granada in LaLiga was the destination, and it started so well, but his loan was cut short halfway through the season after only six appearances. 

Keen to keep his place on the progress chart, he chose to spend the second half of last season on loan at Rangers. He managed 15 showings and 3 goals, but he couldn’t quite manage the sparkle he managed in the previous season.

Injuries did play a part, but what was hindering him most is that at Granada and Rangers, he couldn’t hold down a regular spot.

It meant that the jury was still out on Toral back at Arsenal, so this summer, it was either another loan spell, stay at the club and hope his performances for the Reserves would attract Wenger’s attention – or leave.

Hull City and Leonid Slutsky came calling, and we cannot blame Toral for his decision. He is eager to progress and play regularly, and at the KC Stadium he will have that opportunity. Could we have been a little premature on the decision?

It has left many questions regarding Toral, and a feeling that he could well flourish and come back to haunt us in the future. 

A buyback clause would have been ideal – let Toral grow and then bring him back into the fold when he is ready. 

Unfortunately, yet another young player with bags of talent has left the club. None of us will know if Toral would have cut it at Arsenal, but it would have been great to give him that chance. He seemed the archetypal Arsenal player, but when hunger for gametime kicks in, no one can begrudge a youngster the chance to make hay whilst the sun shines. 

Good luck Jon Toral, Gooners everywhere wish for you nothing but the best – aside from when you play us!