Dani Ceballos says a frank conversation with Mikel Arteta led to an upturn in form and he admits, in retrospect, he was wrong to get frustrated thinking he should be playing when he wasn’t fit enough.
After recovering from a hamstring injury that kept him sidelined for six weeks, the midfielder didn’t play a single minute of Arteta’s first full month in charge. Frustrated by the situation and worried a lack of game time would see him excluded from Spain’s Euro 2020 squad, he explored a premature January return to Spain.
In the end, he stuck things out, got picked for the Premier League game with Newcastle at the start of February and featured in every remaining game. By the end of the season, he’d told the boss he wanted to come back for more and the Gunners have since sealed a deal to keep the 24-year-old for another season.
Reflecting on the way his relationship with the boss developed, Ceballos told Arsenal.com: “To be honest, it wasn’t easy for him because he was coming into a dressing room that had already had two other coaches and where the team hadn’t been able to get the results that everyone wanted.
“It wasn’t easy for me to get into the team either because I was coming off the back of a long injury lay-off. I felt like I should be playing but I was wrong about that because I wasn’t fit. The coach was really straight with me and said that if I got myself fit and kept working hard, I’d have a chance of getting back into the team.
“I ended up performing well and repaying the faith he’d shown in me before the Newcastle game. From that moment onwards, we started to build a good coach/player bond and things went well for me personally. I think he’s made me a much better player in the last six months.”
After a traumatic first half of the season for the players and a ridiculously hectic opening couple of months for the boss, the timing of the lockdown restrictions that came into play in the UK in March worked out pretty well for the Gunners.
For Ceballos, who was just starting to find form, it was also an opportunity to double-down on his fitness efforts.
“Unfortunately the pandemic happened, but on a personal level and from an Arsenal perspective it helped us because we were able to go home and reset,” says Ceballos.
“The coach spoke to me a lot, as he did with many other players at the club. Then when we came back, the team started to progress. We set ourselves the objective of doing better than we had been doing before the pandemic, and I think from that moment forward we were a different team and were able to do well.
He added: “It wasn’t really a lockdown for me. I created a gym at home and trained like an animal. I knew that when we came back we’d only have 11 games left and I’d need to give everything I had to help the club finish as high as possible.
“I think you saw the best of me because the team was improving and because during the month and a half of lockdown I trained every single day. I think you could see on the pitch that I was in good shape physically and that’s why I was able to perform so well after the restart.”