If you’re wondering why Trent Alexander-Arnold played like he had a point to prove against Arsenal on Saturday, it’s because he did.
The right-back’s drop-off this season has been one of the most noticeable factors in Liverpool‘s collapse. Even before things started to implode for the Reds, his creative numbers had dipped dramatically – he managed just two league assists in the first half of the season.
Whether it’s fatigue, a hangover from last season or just poor form, Liverpool’s golden boy hasn’t been himself for a while, and it all came to a head when Gareth Southgate dropped him from his latest England squad.
Despite the 22-year-old’s obviously alarming form, it was a decision that sparked some outrage. It left Alexander-Arnold, previously England’s undisputed first-choice, in need of a response to stand any chance of going to the Euros in the summer.
If he was angry at Southgate, though, he took it out on Arsenal. He bit back with one of the most focused, driven performances we’ve seen from him in a while.
Frequently winning the ball back and doing some serious damage with it, he was by far and away Liverpool’s best player as they strolled to a 3-0 win. He had his intensity back – just take a look at his celebration after his cross found Diogo Jota to open the scoring.
Whether it was his intention or not, Southgate would have watched that with a satisfied grin on his face.
Jurgen Klopp’s skepticism over the England manager’s decision would have been theatrical, at least partially. The German has to defend his player in public, but privately he knew that after a year of ceaseless football, Alexander-Arnold needed a rest.
If a side effect of that is the player getting a bit between his teeth and setting out to prove his international coach wrong, then that’s just a happy coincidence.
His apparent return to form comes at the ideal time for Liverpool too. The Arsenal game was a significant step in the right direction, but there are bigger fish to fry over the next fortnight; a Champions League quarter-final tie with Real Madrid stands between them and a realistic chance of silverware.
It’s an imposing prospect, but it looks slightly less imposing with a fit and firing Alexander-Arnold in the team.
Only Southgate will know what he anticipated when he picked his squad. It might have been a straight form-based decision, or it might have been a crafty bit of man-management designed to light a fire under one of his key players ahead of this summer’s European Championships. In all probability, it was something in between.
Either way, it’s given the Liverpool man a long-awaited rest, and the wakeup call he needed to get back to his best.