Why the young full-back’s record-breaking season is to be the start of a period of brilliance
Last week was quite the week for Trent Alexander Arnold. In truth, it has been quite the season. The Scouser, a Liverpool red born and bred, has further cemented his place as a regular in his side’s defence in 2018/19, while pushing the case for increased international recognition. Along the way, he has consistently shown why he deserves to be recognised as one of the world’s most exciting players, and why he could follow in the footsteps of another certain Liverpool-born academy product and cult hero.
Alexander-Arnold finished the campaign in the same vein that he had started it. In the same lung-busting manner that he had powered up and down the right-hand side of Liverpool’s attack for its duration, finishing with the most assists in a season by a defender (12) in the Premier League era. By definition, he is not a stopper. He is a creator, a man exuding youthful passion blended with outrageous ability, pace and an experienced head displaying the maturity of a player 10 years his senior.
Over the course of this season, Alexander-Arnold has earned himself a reputation as an assist specialist, so it seemed fitting that he capped a fine season with a suitably brilliant display on Sunday against Wolves, laying on one assist while he might easily have had three more. This particular assist was all the more fitting given its striking resemblance to numerous crosses of his that have been a feature of his increasingly impressive game this season. The whipped ball behind a high defensive line, just as he did for this record-breaking assist for Sadio Mané against Wolves, has become his trademark. Just like the Gerrard piledriver or the crunching Carragher challenge, the newest Scouse wonder boy has developed an effective skill that is celebrated not merely within the pride of the Anfield confines.
Earlier in the week, the marauding full-back laid on two assists in an inspirational second half performance, metaphorically pinning Barcelona back and driving his side on to the unlikeliest of comeback victories over the Spaniards in the Champions League semi-final. On that special night, Alexander-Arnold was the embodiment of Reds fans’ never-say-die attitude and fighting spirit, but for a 20-year-old defender on such a huge stage, his sprinkling of world-class skill was the icing on the cake. In particular, the second of his two assists and Divock Origi’s decisive winner, was something of pure ingenuity and a representation of Alexander-Arnold’s obvious maturity way beyond his years.
The assist was much-praised, for obvious reason, and was the first of a few striking images from last week’s two crucial games that left an indelible mark on the memory about the player he is destined to become. Alexander-Arnold’s deceptive, creative, inch-perfect brilliance invited his teammate to tuck the ball away, and simultaneously demolished the side featuring the game’s greatest ever player. It was 4-0, in front of the Kop, and the young Scouser had been the beating, Liverpudlian heart of a performance which perfectly encapsulated the club’s core values.
All in all, the night felt like a watershed moment for Jürgen Klopp’s trusty number 66. Just 25 minutes before his final act of technical ingenuity, Alexander-Arnold set the ball rolling for his side’s resurgent charge at the start of the second half. Having robbed the man widely considered one of the best left-backs of his generation, Jordi Alba, the Reds pocket rocket burst forward and pinged the ball across the box for Georginio Wijnaldum to strike home. It was the perfect example of what fans have become accustomed to seeing from their new favourite homegrown star, a purposeful stride and dominance with an utter disregard for the calibre of his opponent.
After the game, Alexander-Arnold sprinted over to disrupt a television interview with his captain, Jordan Henderson. Perhaps in shock and certainly in pure delight, he jumped on his captain and burst out with a roar of “COME ON!”, a sentiment echoed among Liverpool fans across the globe. Five days later, a full hour after the final whistle and subsequent lap of honour had been completed at Anfield, Alexander-Arnold remained on the Anfield turf, providing us with further insight into his character. The picture below, taken by Ben Smith of the BBC, sums up both the player and the young man.
Seemingly refusing to be dragged off the field, he stayed on the luscious green turf, incessantly delivering crosses for his friends to score at the Anfield Road End, laying them on a plate just as he has done for his team mates all season, except with less of the venomous accuracy and unerring consistency that fans have come to expect.
It is his strength that is the stick some attempt to use to beat Alexander-Arnold with. It is often claimed that he “can be got at” and is not as good defensively as he is going forward. However, to argue such is to miss the point entirely, and frankly irrelevant. He is so good as a modern-day attacking full-back that Alexander-Arnold’s strengths far outweigh his apparent weaknesses.
Similar to his so-called defensive “frailties,” Alexander-Arnold’s age is not all that reasonable an argument to prevent a genuine claim to him now being the best right back in world football. He has already confirmed his promise, beginning to defy expectations about just how good he could be. He was part of a defence that kept 21 Premier League clean sheets, making 29 appearances along the way and adding one superb free-kick to his 12 assists for the campaign. His incredible form this season now surely cements his position as England’s number one right back, while he is starting to become widely recognised as a potential Liverpool and England captain for years to come.
Alexander-Arnold’s rise in such a short period of time has been nothing short of remarkable. As one of the hottest young properties in world football right now, and under the guidance of Klopp, the Scouser’s development is likely to continue at such speed. For Alexander-Arnold, the possibilities are endless.
Despite missing out on the Premier League, his remarkable season could end with him as a European champion. What remains to be seen is the seemingly inevitable development of Alexander-Arnold into Liverpool and England captain, in the process taking over the mantle from his boyhood hero who donned the number eight, and ruling as the Anfield faithful’s rightful king for years to come.