Arjen Robben's sharp decline should ring an alarm bell at Bayern

Arjen Robben has entered an era of sharp decline, and FC Bayern München must decide upon his successor this summer. An analysis proves it beyond doubt.
There are few things as frustrating, when you are a sports fan, as seeing an idol lose a step. No athlete can escape it, save for the few who miraculously find a way to retire on top.
Unfortunately for Bayern fans, Arjen Robben’s inevitable decline has already begun. I had that qualitative impression since the beginning of the 2017-18 season, and research shows more alarming numbers than I expected.
Here are raw Bundesliga stats. My starting point is the highly productive 2014-15 season as Pep Guardiola was at the helm. Robben was a potent weapon, still in his prime.

Category 2017-18 2016-17 2015-16 2014-15
Appearances
Minutes per game
Goals scored (games for each goal)
Assists
Shots per game
Shot accuracy
Chances created
Duels won
Take-ons won
16
71
3 (5.3)
5
2.6
53%
25
50%
35%
26
70
13 (2)
9
3.2
47%
49
60%
61%
15
73
4 (3.75)
1
3.5
43%
27
53%
49%
21
80
17 (1.23)
7
4.2
60%
50
60%
68%

(All statistics by Squawka and WhoScored.com)

Fitness, not a problem

From a qualitative point of view, there is nothing wrong with Robben’s energy level. He still makes plenty of runs and has the speed to outpace players.
The number of appearances has only been influenced by injuries, and the number of minutes per game has only dropped from 80 to 71 in the last four seasons. None of that is material to call your mom and cry hysterically.

50% less efficient

The first worry appears in the goal-scoring department. It now takes 5.3 games for Robben to put the ball in the back of the net. Naturally, his trademark “cut inside and curl it inside the far post” remains spectacular, but the frequency is going down.
You are allowed to freak out when taking a look at efficiency.
Robben now shoots 2.6 times per game on average, a number that drops continuously. The Flying Dutchman does not get in a position to let one fly as often as before, and you may have previously noticed it in the thick of the action.
Shot accuracy is still lovely, but No.10 may not able to match his numbers for the 2014-15 season. Less frequent shooting means that his ability to convert potential chances is diminishing.
The final two numbers, chances created and take-ons won, are the most alarming because they are incredibly important for a winger.
While Robben still wins half of his challenges, but if you isolate take-ons, you see a drop from 68% to a paltry 35%. Chances created per game have dropped from more than 2.3 to barely over 1.5 on average.
In a nutshell, Robben can still score pretty goals, but he is far from the threat he used to be. Seeing him run down the ring wing with the ball gives people a warm feeling, and understandably so. However, diminishing efficiency suggests that he is far beyond his prime.

Successor needed

What should FC Bayern do? Does Robben still have a place in Munich?
It is high time for the Bavarians to settle on a successor as default starter on the right wing. Whether that is Thomas Müller, a proven force, or Kingsley Coman as Serge Gnabry could play on the left next season, is not the question at hand. What matters is the urgency to react to a celebrated player’s decline.
My recommendation would be to extend Robben’s contract by a year with one condition: he would have to officially become a rotation player. If unable to relinquish his status as a starter, Robben would have to leave for another club.

Final thoughts

I cannot blame you if the idea of Robben taking a back seat or leaving hurts your feelings. The Dutchman will probably be in most people’s best Bayern XI in history for a long time, and I agree with anyone who ranks him among the very best.
However, FCB fancy winning the Bundesliga and having a decent shot at the Champions League every season. For that to happen, they need to deal with a decline in a calm and cold-blooded way. If it means that Robben has to go, so be it.