Trent Alexander-Arnold: Is he actually a terrible defender?

Trent Alexander-Arnold
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Published on 10 Aug 2022 6:33 pm (UK Time)

After his woeful display against Fulham at the weekend, I decided it was time that we finally had an answer to this question.

I am going to compare Trent alexander-Arnold’s defensive numbers in the 2021/22 Premier League season against two of his compatriots in the league – Reece James and Kyle Walker.

Spoiler alert, he isn’t as bad as you may think.

1 -on-1 defending

Without a doubt, this is one of his biggest weaknesses. However, his numbers are not as far off his rivals as some fans and pundits would have you believe.

In terms of the number of times each of them is dribbled past per 90 minutes, Trent Alexander-Arnold does fall considerably short of the others. According to SofaScore.com, he is dribbled past an average of once per game, whereas Walker and James are both dribbled past just 0.5 times each.

Essentially, Alexander-Arnold is dribbled past twice as often as his rivals.

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However, when you compare the percentage of dribblers faced that they tackle, the numbers start to look a little better for the Liverpool defender.

Using FBREF.com as my database, Trent Alexander-Arnold tackled 39% of all dribblers that he faced. Whilst that is considerably less than Walker’s 50%, it does beat out James’ figure of 32%. This is surprising given the fact that Alexander-Arnold does get dribbled past more often than the other two, so naturally, you’d expect his percentage to be the lowest.

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This statistic suggests then that either Liverpool’s system leaves their full-backs more exposed and therefore have to defend against dribblers more often, or that their opposition purposefully chooses to target Alexander-Arnold as they believe he is weak defensively.

Both of these scenarios would cause Trent Alexander-Arnold to be dribbled at more often, which would explain why, despite tackling a higher percentage of dribblers, the 23-year-old is still dribbled past more often than his rivals.

The fact that Robertson is dribbled past just 0.5 times per game though does suggest that the latter is true.

But, this could also be because Robertson is the better defender between the two. So rather than Alexander-Arnold being targeted because of his poor defending, perhaps he is targeted because Robertson is simply a superior defender – a statement which is true when comparing Robertson to most full-backs in the league.

I am not suggesting that Trent Alexander-Arnold does not need to improve his 1-on-1 defending, but the fact that he tackles a higher percentage of dribblers than Reece James, a player who is often represented as being a good 1-on-1 defender, demonstrates that he is not as bad as some suggest.

To label him as a sub-par 1-on-1 defender is lazy, and seems to be somewhat inaccurate.

Proactive defending

This section will look at winning possession, intercpetions and tackles.

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In terms of winning possession, Trent Alexander-Arnold is far superior to his rivals. According to FBREF.com, the Liverpool defender wins possession back 0.8 times per 90 minutes, compared to just 0.3 times for both Walker and James.

Alexander-Arnold also comes out on top in both interceptions and tackles per game too. Sofascore.com state that the 23-year-old makes 1.3 intercetpions per game, as well as 1.3 tackles per game too. Kyle Walker’s respective figures are 0.7 and 0.8, whereas Recce James’ are 0.7 and 0.3 per game.

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Walker’s inferior numbers can be explained by the fact that Man City dominate possession – they averaged 68.5% possession in Premier League games last season. However, the same cannot be said for Reece James as Chelsea’s average of 62.3% is lower than Liverpool’s 63.3%.

Some would argue that Chelsea’s style of play does not lend itself to proactive defending as easily. However, given that Marcus Alonso averaged 1.5 tackles and 1.5 interceptions per game last season, this argument does not seem to have any substance.

Others will put forward the argument that Liverpool’s aggressive style of play naturally leads to more interceptions and tackles for their players. And whilst this is true, the fact that Robertson makes 0.8 interceptions and 1.2 tackles per games highlights that Alexander-Arnold also outperforms his own teammates who play in the same system.

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Trent Alexander-Arnold may not be the best 1-on-1 defender, but when it comes to actively winning the ball back for his team, he beats out both Reece James and kyle Walker in almost every metric.

Positioning

This element of defending is almost impossible to quantify, and relies almost solely upon the eye-test when investigating.

When watching A;exander-Arnold, it becomes apparent that this, like his 1-on-1 defending, is an area that needs improving. Reece James and Kyle Walker are both far better in this department than the Liverpool man and I am sure that Klopp and his coaching staff are working hard to address this issue.

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However, I don’t think that takes away from the fact that his core numbers are far better than most people would think. At the very least, his numbers are comparable to Reece James in most metrics, and at his very best, even beats both James and Walker in certain areas.

Whatever your personal opinion is on Trent Alexander-Arnold as a player, I hope this article goes some way to demonstrating that, despite having definite flaws in his defensive game, he isn’t actually as bad a defender as some would suggest.

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