After last weekends match against Leicester City, one of the talking points of "Arsenal Twitter" was should Cedric Soares be starting over Hector Bellerin, especially when Arsenal play with Nicolas Pepe?
I guess the first place to start is with my priors, which I am writing before really looking into any stats or watching anything. I think that Bellerin is a better player than Soares, after watching the opinion on the gap between them is smaller than I originally imagined.
With that out of the way, I will do my best to present this in the most fair way that I can.
One of the things that really makes this harder is that Cedric just hasn't played many minutes as the right back in the Premier League (180 minutes) and the matches in the Europa League have been against much lower teams that I am not sure how much there is to learn from that for a player of his age.
One of the things that I have seen as a point in Cedric's favor over Bellerin is that he plays right back in a much more traditional way, providing overlapping runs and generally holding the width.
The positional stats from his brief time as the right back matches the eye test with his average touch just under 3 yards wider than the average touch of Bellerin. Looking deeper than that, in the final third Cedric is more likely to touch the ball out wide (one of the disadvantages of event data is that the actual position off the ball is not captured) with 87% of his touches in the wide right position compared to 64% for Bellerin.
This is not say that Bellerin does not touch the ball in wide positions, but he does play a lot more in the half space, especially when he gets touches in deeper positions (in the middle third the touch breakdown looks more similar, with both having similar touch breakdowns in the buildup phase).
What to actually make of this is hard to say, because it depends on what Mikel Arteta is asking of them and how this interacts with the other players on the pitch.
From my watching, when Bellerin plays with Pepe, they both tend to want to play in the final third right half space and too often look to be in each others way. When he plays with Bukayo Saka, they tend to interchange well with Saka seeming much more comfortable taking up the widest positions. Cedric hasn't really played much with Saka but his tendency to stay wide does seem to work better with Pepe wanting to cut inside.
For the remaining stats I am going to also use Cedric's time playing as a left back because without that it is getting into dangerous small sample size territory, but it might be slightly unfair because he has played a lot of time as a right footed player playing as a left back.
Unsurprisingly (to me at least) both players pass attempts per 90 look very similar, with both players attempting just under 56 passes per 90.
Both players have passed slightly better than what my expected passing model suggest given the passes they attempt with Bellerin completing his passes at a higher rate (83% vs 76%) driven primarily by having a pass attempt mix that skews more towards short and medium length. Bellerin is also more secure on the ball with 7.7 (2.5 own third) losses per 90 compared to 10.9 (3.0 own third) losses per 90 for Cedric.
In the StatsBomb progressive passing they are similar with a slight edge towards Bellerin (3.6 vs 3.4) with a similar story in progressive carries (4.9 vs 4.7). In advancing the ball from deeper locations into the final third, Cedric has the edge in both passing (3.5 vs 2.4) and carrying the ball (1.8 vs 1.3).
They complete the same number of dribbles per 90 (0.7 for both players) and complete dribbles at roughly the same rate, with Cedric at a slight edge (56% to 52%). Bellerin has a slight edge with his dribbles leading to better actions but this also matches that he generally touches the ball in higher value locations.
Both players overall have contributed similar numbers in the way of xG Chain and xG Buildup. Bellerin has the slightest of edges but it is very close with xG Chain 0.36 to 0.36 and in buildup (which excludes taking the shot or assisting the shot) 0.27 to 0.24.
Neither player has taken many shots this season, with Cedric holding the slight edge at 0.7 shots per 90 compared to 0.5 but with Bellerin managing more on target in this very small sample.
In shot assists it is again very close between the two fullbacks. Bellerin is averaging 1 key pass per 90 and 0.1 xG assisted with Cedric at 0.9 and 0.1 xG assisted. Bellerin has the edge in shot creating actions with 1.6 shots created from his passing per 90 compared to 1 for Cedric.
Cedric has attempted more crosses this season, 3.4 vs 2.3 but completes less of those attempts in the penalty area, 0.3 to 0.4. Cedric also cross the ball in the air much more often.
Bellerin's crosses are in general more dangerous, low crosses and pull backs tend to turn into better shot attempts than crosses in the air. Bellerin's crosses are also in general closer to the box where they are more likely to be completed.
In the Wyscout database this season, Bellerin has completed 43.8% of his 64 cross attempts with an xG assisted value of 1.9. Cedric has completed 31% of his 71 cross attempts with an xG assisted value of 1.4.
After feeling like a broken record where I said that both players are close but so and so has a slight edge, this section finally has some divergance between the players.
|Player||Span||90s||Tkl||TklW||Def 3rd||Mid 3rd||Att 3rd||Past||Press||Succ||%||Def 3rd||Mid 3rd||Att 3rd||Blocks||Sh||Pass||Int||Clr||Err|
What I have gotten from this exercise is that Bellerin and Cedric are a lot closer in production than I would have thought at the start of the season. I was probably too hard on Cedric (although the sample is still pretty small for his performances so maybe this is just a run of good form) and I have to say I am pleased with his versatility as a backup to both the right back and left back positions.
I still think that Bellerin is in general the better player, primarily because his passing and runs in the final third are better but the gap is not as large as I would have thought. I think that in general he has a good understanding and partnership with Saka who likes to combine with players in short passing combinations and I think Saka is currently our best option for the right attacking midfielder position.
I also think that after this if Arteta is going to implement a type of platoon system of rotation between the Premier League and Europa League, partnering Cedric and Pepe is probably not a bad idea, as their styles of play seems to work well together.
Ultimately, I think that this suggests that right back is an area where Arsenal could certainly look to improve, especially if there is an offer for Bellerin in the summer.