Hatem Ben Arfa: Ligue 1's Smoke and Mirrors show
His goals have been vine/gif worthy, he’s clawed his way back to the French National Team and he’s been part of a Nice squad that have scored the 2nd most goals in Ligue 1 this season. It’s been a renaissance for Hatem Ben Arfa, a player reborn after not playing in 2014-15 and before that languishing in the hellhole known as Newcastle. No one can argue that Ben Arfa hasn’t been exciting, and his dribbling exploits have embarrassed numerous players this season.
It’s just that all that excitement has been more or less a smoke and mirrors show. Ben Arfa at his high point in mid October was rocking a overall conversion rate of 30.4% and since then, it’s been a steady decline back into normalcy as he hasn’t scored in 707 minutes of play.
On the basis of this, some would expect that Ben Arfa should be able to bring himself back after hitting this rough patch in his season. I’m very skeptical of this for numerous reasons. The first being that a 14.3% conversion rate is still pretty high for the type of shooter that Ben Arfa is, a predominantly outside the box creator. His conversion rate inside the penalty area is still at a ridiculous 36.8% with the league average usually between 15-16%. And even the chances he’s creating inside the penalty area haven’t been of high quality. His running xG total has barely caught up with his goal total since his goal scoring binge finished two months ago.
You add all of these things together and the probable regression of his scoring rate inside the penalty area and a very logical conclusion can be made that Hatem Ben Arfa has benefitted from a huge amount of variance going his way this season.
Hatem Ben Arfa on the season has a wCC+ of 93.1, 6.9% lower than the average attacking player in Ligue 1 this season (wCC+ is obviously imperfect but it’s a decent snapshot into a players offensive value). Combine that with his xG per 90 being a paltry 0.21 and overall Ben Arfa’s offensive value has been rather pedestrian, but a ridiculous three week scoring streak has fooled everyone into believing Ben Arfa has been good this season. Perhaps an argument could be made that his dribbling this season and the proficiency of it has created more opportunities for Nice and traditional shot metrics can’t quantify that. Even if that’s true, Ben Arfa’s play has been way too inefficient for the amount of praise he’s garnered.