Trent Alexander Arnold’s name was a notable absence from Gareth Southgate’s England squad for March’s international window.
The 22-year-old full-back was left out of the Three Lions’ picture for their World Cup qualifiers with San Marino, Albania, and Poland, with Kyle Walker, Reece James, and Kieran Trippier preferred.
The decision to leave the Champions League and Premier League medalist out of the national team reckoning was greeted with confusion, with Jurgen Klopp leading the chorus of objections.
Yes, his season to that point had not been as successful as those previous, but only when judged relative to the sky-high standards he set for himself.
“I was surprised when he didn’t get the call-up. I respect the decision, of course I do. But I didn’t understand it,” said the Liverpool manager.
Set-backs are part and parcel of football and how a player responds to adversity is a measure of their mental strength. Therefore, it is clear that Alexander Arnold — whose form has been sublime since March — is made of stern, psychological ingredients.
Since the Premier League reconvened from its international hiatus in early April, the academy graduate has shone and registered four assists and one goal in seven games, all the while providing a defensive acumen and solidity that he is so often wrongly accused of lacking. These assist figures could have easily been inflated were it not for the fact that Liverpool — with the Newcastle game at Anfield a particularly sorry example — have spurned several golden chances this season.
Alexander Arnold started this run of game-deciding moments with an assist away to Arsenal, curling a sumptuous cross onto the forehead of Diogo Jota. So pinpoint and pacy was the delivery, the Portuguese simply had to help it into the goal.
The next weekend, the right-back once again came up trumps. This time, he took the goal scoring — rather than goal creating — responsibility into his own hands and gorgeously curled a late winner into the Kop end goal against Aston Villa. The finish was that of a top-end forward, not a right-back somehow deemed unworthy of international selection.
Alexander Arnold made it three-goal contributions in as many games as he picked out Sadio Mane to score against Leeds at Elland Road. Slack marking at a late corner allowed the hosts to equalise, but it doesn’t take away from the number 66 crafting yet another goal.
More strong performances followed against Southampton and Newcastle. These clashes didn’t yield goals or assists, but his defensive showings were solid, and, were it not for his teammates contriving to miss golden chances, he could have easily registered more goal contributions.
The 22-year-old picked up the slack in impressive fashion away to Manchester United, notching an assist for Roberto Firmino, but, more than that, running the game at the home of the Reds’ biggest rivals. His statistics from the game paint a picture of an imperious performance.
Alexander Arnold strutted around Old Trafford making 86 touches, three clearances, and two interceptions. He successfully completed 100% of his tackles and crafted five chances, two of which were big. Raiding forward, he also had two shots on target.
The win away to United meant that Liverpool put their Champions League qualification destiny in their own hands, provided they won their remaining three games. The first of these treble of fixtures was West Bromwich Albion away last Sunday. With the time in the red and the teams deadlocked at 1-1, the full-back played a prominent role in arguably one of the most iconic moments in Premier League history. Whipping in a pacey corner, Alexander Arnold placed the ball flush onto the forehead of goalkeeper Alisson Becker and the Brazilian international powered home the winner.
No one of a Liverpool persuasion needs reminding of the right-back’s qualities, but, should he keep this type of form up and guide his team to the promised land of the Champions League, Southgate and his England staff are getting a timely refresher course.