The media reaction to Gareth Southgate quite sensibly dropping Trent Alexander-Arnold from his England squad is predictably level-headed.
Mind the gap
There was a reason Mediawatch found the disparate coverage of Arsenal and Tottenham’s Europa League first-leg victories so jarring in The Sun last week.
The former were ‘gormless’ and ‘pushed their luck to the limit’ in conceding a goal ‘which could yet have massive repercussions’, according to Mark Irwin.
The latter ‘could be celebrating in Gdansk on May 26’ after taking ‘a step closer to the Europa League Final’ by the third paragraph of Paul Jiggins’ match report.
As was written in this column then: Tottenham ‘won 2-0 at home. Arsenal won 3-1 away. Who is really in a better position?’ Those ‘gormless’ Gunners, it turns out. And who could have seen that coming?
Jiggins was, thankfully, back on match report duty for Tottenham’s implosion in Zagreb.
A shiny penny for whoever can guess the amount of jail puns he makes in light of Dinamo manager Zoran Mamic’s incarceration…
It’s ten. Ten bloody references, or one mention of prison or ‘footballing fraudsters’ or ‘criminal displays’ every 67 words. That’s almost admirable.
Ready to crumble
And Irwin was on the job for Arsenal’s eventually insignificant defeat to Olympiakos, in which he claims ‘Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang climbed off the naughty step to help nervous Arsenal edge their way through to the Europa League quarter-finals’.
Failing to score from his four shots undoubtedly settled the nerves.
But of course this is the grumpiest man in show business and so ‘there won’t be too many potential opponents quaking at the knees’ for the quarter-final draw as ‘all their old faults crept in again’.
Arsenal, it is added, ‘are always liable to crumble at the first sign of pressure’ and ‘are never more than one lapse of concentration away from making a mountain out of a molehill’.
They allowed two shots after Youssef Al-Arabi’s goal and neither were on target. Olympiakos needed two more goals to progress and Arsenal pretty much shut them down thereafter while creating and wasting many more chances of their own.
This was no positive result but reading Irwin’s match report you do have to remind yourself periodically that Arsenal are in the quarter-finals of the Europa League. Yes, the team that is ‘always liable to crumble at the first sign of pressure’ – despite claiming more Premier League points from losing positions than all but three clubs this season.
Mess is more
Then you reach Marc Mayo’s verdict for the same newspaper.
‘THANK GOD for Spurs, Mikel Arteta might sit down tonight and whisper to himself.’
Well apparently Arsenal ‘were busy making a bit of a mess themselves’ at the Emirates. Again, they allowed two shots after conceding and both were off-target. They weren’t great but they went through with a two-goal cushion.
‘A strong league finish is not out of the question but otherwise this tournament is it for Arsenal, and they’re not even doing that well in it.’
Literal quarter-finalists in a competition where their record this season is P10 W8 D1 L1 F27 A10. If that is ‘not even doing that well’ then imagine if they turn up in the next round.
But all of this Europa League nonsense pales in comparison to the biggest story of the day: the cold-blooded and mindless murder of Trent Alexander-Arnold.
Gareth Southgate’s decision to drop the Liverpool defender from his latest England squad has caused reverberations in the newspaper industry not seen since Gianluca Di Marzio broke an embargo that one time and people started suggesting the actual police should get involved.
Let’s start completely coincidentally with John Cross, who claims that Alexander-Arnold’s omission leaves his ‘Euro hopes in tatters’. The Daily Mirror‘s chief football writer is positively aghast that the right-back has been left out as he ‘was one of the best players in Europe as Liverpool ran away with the title last season’.
It’s as if the national team manager has picked players for his March 2021 squad and not based it on what happened between August 2019 and July 2020. Maverick.
There is one point missing from this Cross reaction tweet.
Trent Alexander-Arnold won the European Cup in 2019, Premier League in 2020, was one of the key assets in that success and has been back on his game recently. He can be such a key player. Being dropped will probably end his Euro chances. Feels so harsh. https://t.co/NScLTDFU2v
— John Cross (@johncrossmirror) March 19, 2021
He has never played well for England. No amount of 2019 European Cups or 2020 Premier Leagues change that. And it seems quite important when picking an England team.
Charlie Wyett continues that theme in The Sun:
‘Trent Alexander-Arnold was stunned last night after being axed by England – and his Euros dream looks in tatters.’
If only there was something he could do in the next two or three months, like respond to this as well as others have previously and continue to build on his improving form at club level.
But yes, Liverpool were definitely ‘privately angered’ by one of their most important players not being called up for international duty during a global pandemic in the middle of the most congested campaign in modern history. And they absolutely told a newspaper not circulated in the city about how annoyed they were.
Talking about my generation
One can at least believe James Pearce of The Athletic if he reports that Liverpool reacted to the decision with ‘shock and bemusement’. It’s still strange but it undoubtedly comes from within the club itself.
But then he piles in, writing that ‘the timing is certainly bizarre’ after Alexander-Arnold played so well at both ends against RB Leipzig and Wolves recently.
Sure, but perhaps three excellent games does not outweigh two or three pretty mediocre months until recently by his standards. Is it really unreasonable to think Reece James might have usurped him based on club form in that time? Kieran Trippier and Kyle Walker have clearly been chosen for their versatility and past experiences under Southgate.
To ignore that and claim ‘it’s certainly a bizarre way to treat one of the most exciting talents of a generation’ is just strange. It’s as if Alexander-Arnold is the first very good player ever to have been omitted from an international squad. It would be ‘bizarre’ to keep selecting a generational talent that has never shown that generational talent for England when choosing an England squad.
Enjoy the Trip
Pearce also described it as a ‘ridiculous decision’ on Twitter, later posting this:
Alexander-Arnold has had some problems this season – Covid and a calf injury for starters. But he was very good in the wins v Leipzig/Wolves. No idea how Trippier, who has played five times since Christmas and is so limited, gets in the squad ahead of him.https://t.co/QcGNVdYVbq
— James Pearce (@JamesPearceLFC) March 18, 2021
If you have ‘no idea how’ Kieran Trippier is ahead of Alexander-Arnold in the pecking order then Mediawatch has sympathy for you, because the 2018 World Cup was bloody great. And while Trippier has played scarcely for Atletico Madrid this calendar year due to suspension, he remains the starting right-back for the current La Liga leaders when available.
Oh, and he can also play at wing-back or on the left, so is far more suited to England’s system than Alexander-Arnold.
It’s no mystery as to why he might have been picked. Hell, where was this energy from everyone when Trippier himself was dropped for the Nations League finals in May 2019? Alexander-Arnold just needs to respond in a similar way to get his place back, which should not be tough for ‘one of the most exciting talents of a generation’.
That last line of Pearce’s takedown of Southgate leans a little too far into his target audience:
‘If Southgate honestly doesn’t think he’s worth a place in the squad then you really have to question the judgment of the man at the helm.’
Alternatively, just listen to or read his entirely sensible words from Thursday’s press conference, including:
“It’s simply that we think Reece James and Kieran Trippier have had exceptional seasons with their clubs. Kyle Walker is in great form, too.”
“In the past Kieran and Kyle have found themselves out of the squad and have worked hard and got themselves back in and with Trent’s age and his ability, I’m sure he is going to do that as well
“I realistically did not think I would be sitting here today picking a squad with John Stones and Jesse Lingard in it. Trent is closer to this squad than they were to our autumn squads four months ago.”
“I feel like I have got to look at myself a bit with Trent. I don’t feel that he has hit that level he’s hit with Liverpool here with England, and other players have. So there is an element of me having to look at how can we do that, because we know some of the qualities that he brings.”
But why do that when ‘you really have to question the judgement’ of someone who laid his entire reasoning bare for everyone to see?
Mediawatch has saved the best til last. You would think that Henry Winter might be reluctant to use hyperbolic phrases or words like ‘callous culling’ or ‘brutal’ again, considering how well things have gone for Chelsea since Roman Abramovich shot Bambi.
Lessons have not been learned as Southgate is taken to task in The Times for not giving Alexander-Arnold ‘some leeway’.
He is a professional footballer, not a school pupil misbehaving due to problems at home.
For some strange reason we start with a story about Terry Venables picking Alan Shearer for Euro 96 despite the striker being on a barren international run at the time. It feels only fair to point out that Shearer scored 31 goals in 35 Premier League games that season to win the Golden Boot. It doesn’t feel particularly relevant to the case of a right-back being omitted for playing poorly at international level and dropping below the requisite standards at club level until recently.
Winter eventually falls on his actual point with an utterly existential: ‘who decides how long “form” lasts?’
The England manager, in this case.
‘How can Kieran Trippier be in based on “form”, when he has played only five games for Atletico Madrid in three months because of his ban?’
Because England ‘form’ is taken into account, among other things.
‘If Southgate is picking on “form”, is Kyle Walker the first-choice right back at Manchester City? Or João Cancelo?’
Well Walker has started five of City’s last seven games. But also no-one is really ‘first-choice’ at City right now. Playing regularly for the best team in Europe seems important, though.
And please stop putting “form” in quote marks. It’s weird.
‘Is Reece James the starting right-wing back at Chelsea?’
‘Yes, he is now, although Tuchel does rotate and started Callum Hudson-Odoi there when he first became head coach.’
‘It is surely not too much to expect some leeway for a special talent such as Alexander-Arnold.’
But it kind of is. It would be strange to offer preferential treatment to any player in the build-up to an international tournament. It doesn’t matter whether he is a ‘special talent’, a ‘generational talent’ or any other kind of talent, the reasons for not choosing him are clear, whether you agree with them or not.
What has he done for England to earn ‘leeway’ for England?
‘It is about appreciating and nurturing a young talent, a full back who has already been champion of England and Europe, who is still only 22 and is of such quality that he needs accommodating.’
It is about choosing the best players at that particular moment. It is not about automatically picking someone because he’s 22 and has won the Champions League and Premier League. It is not about ‘accommodating’ any one player, particularly one who has never had a standout game for his country.
‘He is too natural a talent to be excluded by Southgate…’
So he gets in every squad ever from now until his retirement, regardless of any other factor? After all, his ‘talent’ will still be too ‘natural’ to overlook when he is 35 and on the Liverpool bench.
Carra on England
Credit to Jamie Carragher for managing to disagree with picking Trippier over Alexander-Arnold, while also being completely constructive and rational about the decision.
These two paragraphs of his Daily Telegraph article in particular stand out:
‘Southgate has never seemed convinced Alexander-Arnold suits England’s system, or to be more specific how often he likes to switch between a back four and three centre-backs. Southgate does not want a playmaker at right-back. He wants a traditional right-back or wing-back.
What we have to realise is playing for England under Southgate is never going to be the same as for Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool.’
Simple. And this being ‘no more than a bump in the road’ in his career is a little more balanced and logical than ‘his Euros dream looks in tatters’.