Arsenal: Is Hector Bellerin going backwards?

BURNLEY, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 26: Hector Bellerin of Arsenal looks on during the Premier League match between Burnley and Arsenal at Turf Moor on November 26, 2017 in Burnley, England. (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
BURNLEY, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 26: Hector Bellerin of Arsenal looks on during the Premier League match between Burnley and Arsenal at Turf Moor on November 26, 2017 in Burnley, England. (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images) /

Tony Cascarino believes that Hector Bellerin is going backwards. But is that actually true? I dug into the statistics on the Arsenal full-back to find out.

Hector Bellerin burst onto the scene in the 2015/16 season. A fresh-faced 19-year-old with blistering speed and a remarkable energy, the Spaniard bounded up and down the right flank with great energy and intention. Playing opposite of Nacho Monreal, Arsenal boasted one of the most vivacious and vibrant full-back pairings in the Premier League. They had, for all intents and purposes, unearthed another gem.

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But since that day, his form has not quite matched the initial hype. And now, questions are beginning to be asked regarding his development. Here is Tony Cascarino, after Wednesday night’s draw with West Ham United, writing in The Times, on Bellerin:

"“I don’t know what has happened to Hector Bellerin, who has really gone backwards for Arsenal. He was touted as one of the country’s best right backs, supposedly wanted by Barcelona <…> We often question Arsene Wenger’s development of young players at Arsenal, and this could be another piece of evidence against the Frenchman.”"

It is something that I had also questioned. Bellerin has not, at least on first glance, played at the same level as he did when he first broke into the starting XI. But is that premonition, one shared by myself, Cascarino and others, actually a true one? Do the statistics support such a stance?

One of the criticisms levelled at Bellerin has been his attacking output. In the Premier League, in the 2015/16 season, he totalled a goal and five assists, yielding a direct involvement in a goal every 540 minutes. The next season, he had one goal and four assists, yielding a direct involvement in a goal every 500 minutes. This season, he is yet to score or record an assist.

But those figures are a little misleading, especially the assist totals. In 2015/16, Bellerin created 0.7 chances per 90 minutes. The next year, he created 1 chance per 90 minutes, and this year, that figure has risen again, to 1.1 chances per 90 minutes. So while he may be yet to register an assist, he is actually creating more chances than ever.

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One reason for his lesser assists could be because of his crossing. In the previous two seasons, Bellerin averaged 2.5 and 2.1 crosses per 90 minutes respectively. This year, that figure has dropped to 1.5 crosses per 90 minutes. And in terms of accurate crosses, his figures have steadily decreased year on year, from 0.5 to 0.4 to 0.2 accurate crosses per 90 minutes. One key issue has been his dribbling. Bellerin is completing 0.5 dribbles per 90 minutes. In 2015/16, that figure was 1.7. More significantly, he is also suffering 0.5 unsuccessful dribbles per 90 minutes this season. In 2015/16, just over half of his dribbles were unsuccessful, a far reduced rate from his struggles with the ball at his feet this season. So his attacking output has certainly deteriorated. He is not the same overlapping, bombarding wide threat that he once was, even if it is not quite as worrying as has been publicised. Defensively speaking, however, there is much more cause for concern.

Comparing his breakthrough 2015/16 season to this current year, Bellerin, with all these figures being considered per 90 minutes, has made fewer tackles, fewer clearances, fewer interceptions, committed more fouls, been brandished more yellow cards, and blocked fewer passes, crosses and shots. In fact, of all the basic defensive statistics, Bellerin is worse this season than he was in 2015/16.

Additionally, and this is something that is much more difficult to quantify, he has been caught out of position far more frequently. Stationed as a wing-back, rather than a traditional full-back, Bellerin has, at times, struggled to find the balance between providing attacking width and preserving the defensive structure and security.

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Ultimately, it would be fair to claim that Bellerin has not played at the same level as when he burst onto the scene. There have been injuries, especially last season, and they did play their part in subduing his sharpness of movement. But there is a worrying downwards trend regarding Bellerin’s performances. Perhaps if a big offer came in, selling wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world.