Trent Alexander-Arnold interview: Liverpool's new system is not all about me

Trent Alexander-Arnold salutes the fans

Liverpool’s last meeting with Arsenal had a profound impact on last year’s title destiny. That same day was also potentially defining in this season’s race.

Should Jürgen Klopp win a second Premier League title in May, his side’s rapid improvement will be retraced to Arsenal’s trip to Anfield in April and the ‘reinvention’ of Trent Alexander-Arnold.

After a turbulent season culminating in a comprehensive defeat by Real Madrid in the Champions League and a hammering by Manchester City at the Etihad, Klopp and his coaching team redesigned Liverpool’s formation and the revamp began with Alexander-Arnold’s hybrid role, switching between right-back and central midfield.

The 2-2 draw with Arsenal was the first time Alexander-Arnold had licence to roam. Liverpool went 10 games unbeaten for the rest of the season and have lost just once in 17 games of the current campaign.

Alexander-Arnold remembers receiving his new instructions with enthusiasm, his days as an ‘orthodox’ full-back – if he ever was that – well and truly over.

Liverpool's Trent Alexander-Arnold in action with Arsenal's Oleksandr Zinchenko
Alexander-Arnold's hybrid role began in earnest in the 2-2 draw with Arsenal last April - REUTERS/Phil Noble

“Initially, when the manager and Pep Lijnders [assistant coach] talked to me about it in the week leading up to the game, it was something that I was excited about,” recalls Alexander-Arnold.

“I had obviously seen other teams doing it and then to be asked to do it I thought it would challenge me. It is something that I have massively enjoyed and the team has adapted to it. A lot of focus goes on to me and it is kind of painted as the system is because of me and I am the biggest change just because I shift there.

“But, technically, everyone shifts around. The back three shifts around, you have the midfield, the two 8s then push up and the wingers kind of drop a little bit deeper so everyone moves. Everyone has adapted well.

“We have had a lot of changes but the system is working and you can see that even when I have not been in the team as well. When I was injured briefly in September we still continued to do it with Joe [Gomez] and Conor Bradley can do it really well as we saw in pre-season before he got his injury. It is more about a system rather than who plays in there.”

Alexander-Arnold acknowledges it is not a unique tactic as Pep Guardiola and Mikel Arteta used their full-backs in a similar way.

But the 25-year-old has sought to put his own spin on the position as he did as a marauding right-back who was more like a winger.

Alexander-Arnold scores
Alexander-Arnold scores the winner in the 4-3 victory over Fulham - Peter Byrne/PA Wir

“I study the game anyway. I like to think that I watch a lot of football, I watch a lot of games and I see different systems and different players playing and how they interpret it and what they are asked to do,” he says.

“But the main thing for me was to try and execute what they wanted from me and how I could bring the best out of me and the team. That is my aim no matter where I am asked to play and how I am asked to play.

“It has changed and it has evolved over time. Some games you will see I am not in the middle as much, some games I am in there all the time.

“We have analysts and great coaches and an amazing manager giving us information as to where the space might be and where I can get on the ball.”

Alexander-Arnold cites examples of being man-marked and realising he has to improvise within games.

“Thinking back to the Villa game in September, when we won 3-0 and I got injured [later in the match] – in that game I was very deep and I came right out of the block and I was in the backline and getting the ball,” he says.

“They were not able to get too much pressure on me and I was able to find balls in behind. We had some joy that way. You can see from how well they are doing in the league how difficult it is to break them down. We were able to do that and that was down to the instructions I was given to come out of the block because they are going to make it really compact in there it is going to be hard to get on the ball and turn and be able to play. There are different ways of getting at teams.

“You can go through them round them or over them and against Villa it was getting over them. That is an example of when I was asked to do something differently and we adapt in a different way.”

Arteta is bound to have a plan to nullify Alexander-Arnold, aware he is Liverpool’s creative hub. The battle for influence with Declan Rice will shape the balance of the fixture.

In the first 27 league games of last season – before Arsenal’s visit – Alexander-Arnold provided just three assists, scored one goal and on average created 2.1 chances per match. In his 24 Premier League appearances since, those numbers have significantly increased – in some cases trebling – and he is No 1 in the Opta list for the amount of possession won; effectively a complete midfielder starting as a right-back.

He agrees the move has given a fresh dimension to Liverpool, and given him a new lease of life.

“As a team we have shown incredible consistency, winning games in different ways. It has had a positive impact on all of us, me especially, and I am sure it will evolve and adapt over time,” he said.

“We’ve just got to keep it going. This weekend is a big one.”