Fired-up Trent heads into CL with point to prove

April 06, 2021
Arsenal’s Gabriel Martinell (right) challenges Liverpool’s Trent Alexander-Arnold during their English Premier League match at the Emirates Stadium in London, England, on Saturday, April 3.
Arsenal’s Gabriel Martinell (right) challenges Liverpool’s Trent Alexander-Arnold during their English Premier League match at the Emirates Stadium in London, England, on Saturday, April 3.

It was the kind of cross that few in world football could have expected to deliver, certainly not a player whose status has apparently plunged to being the fourth-best right back in England.

Yet, there was Trent Alexander-Arnold, bending in a stunning delivery with whip, pace and precision from the right wing for Diogo Jota to head home and set Liverpool on their way to a big Premier League win at Arsenal.

Alexander-Arnold turned away, pumped both fists and - with a fierce stare - gave out a guttural roar. It was a release of emotion that probably wasn't lost on England coach Gareth Southgate.

Or Real Madrid.

Liverpool head into their matchup with Madrid in the Champions League quarter-finals with some of their key players back on song after a difficult season - among them a player who, in a way, has redefined the right-back role.

From his position out wide, Alexander-Arnold has been the most creative player on a team that has conquered Europe and, finally after 30 years, the English game over the past couple of years.

His long-range passing, his set pieces and, most obviously, his assists have made him arguably the world's standout right back since 2018, even if his defending has been the subject of criticism on occasion.

DECLINE IN PERFORMANCE

This season, though, his level has dipped. He missed some of the condensed preseason after contracting the coronavirus and then picked up some niggly injuries. Playing in a patched-up Liverpool defence missing injured centre backs Virgil van Dijk, Joe Gomez then Joel Matip, hardly helped Alexander-Arnold during the middle part of the season as the champions' Premier League title defence imploded and their star right back visibly struggled for confidence.

One game particularly stood out: the 1-0 loss to Southampton on January 4 when Alexander-Arnold gave the ball away 38 times, a league-high for the season, before being substituted in the 77th minute.

The last couple of months have been more like the Alexander-Arnold of recent seasons, however, even if that wasn't enough to convince Southgate to pick him in his most recent England squad -- the last before Southgate must choose his 23-man group for this summer's European Championship.

That left Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp flabbergasted.

"I am not criticising Gareth Southgate, and I don't want to have an argument. I respect his role and his decisions," Klopp said. "But I know the player better than anybody else, any other coach, and I can say that he is a world-class player, and not only offensively."

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