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Trent Alexander-Arnold carefully observed the field. He noticed Marcus Rashford making a run and the pass was executed perfectly; it gracefully curved from right to left, gliding into the open area. However, what occurred next was reminiscent of a comical illustration depicting England’s struggle to defeat Malta on their own turf. As Rashford’s advance into the penalty area was halted and Malta managed to clear the ball, Alexander-Arnold swiftly controlled it and charged forward. Unfortunately, it was too forceful: Alexander-Arnold collided with Rashford. The crowd at Wembley let out a collective sigh. Rashford had to be taken off the field due to injury.
It was an eventful evening as paper airplanes flew onto the Wembley pitch, surpassing the number of shots England had against the 171st ranked team in the world. The planes, descending from the stands, may have been more captivating than Gareth Southgate’s team, who struggled to maintain the lead and only scored due to Enrico Pepe’s own goal in the eighth minute. However, this was not sufficient to satisfy the crowd.
In the 74th minute, England finally found their rhythm. Alexander-Arnold made a strong run through the midfield and passed to Kyle Walker, who was set up by Phil Foden’s clever slide pass to find Bukayo Saka. Harry Kane dropped back to score England’s second and last goal of the match, only their second shot on target. Declan Rice soon followed with a beautifully curled third goal, but it was later disallowed by VAR because Kane was in an offside position.
Once more, it was an evening of that nature. However, the task was completed, in a way. England will be included in the top-ranked teams for the Euro 2024 draw next month. Despite this, England played with a lack of urgency as if there were no task at hand. It was an unremarkable event, the type of situation where even Southgate may have had difficulty gaining insights from.
There was one exception to note. Southgate seemed to give Alexander-Arnold control of the midfield for the night. This goes against the previous hesitation to trust him, as Alexander-Arnold was given the freedom to play his own game and roam wherever he pleased. And he certainly took advantage of this, as he appeared to be in multiple positions at once, much like a busy waiter trying to attend to multiple demanding tables. Unfortunately, Rashford had to be substituted early due to Alexander-Arnold’s eagerness to push forward.
It was not a favorable appearance for Alexander-Arnold. The final score and England’s overall performance cannot be solely blamed on him. However, this was also his opportunity to showcase his skills for a potential spot in England’s midfield at Euro 2024. Wearing the number 10 jersey, Alexander-Arnold played as a versatile player, taking on roles of the 4, 6, and 8 positions and improvising on the field. When asked what he wanted his role to be for England, Alexander-Arnold replied that he wanted to be a versatile player.
The deep-lying Trent, also known as the constructor, displayed impressive control of the ball and kept his head held high. He also demonstrated his agility by swiftly changing direction and increasing the pace of England’s gameplay. Unfortunately, he was fouled three times by players from Malta in the first 10 minutes, including a rather rough tackle from Kemar Reid.
Next came Trent, who wandered and floated into the small spaces that appeared near Malta’s side of the field. He would pause and observe, visualizing his surroundings. Initially, his main task involved quick passes back to his teammates, but then he would pick up speed once more and execute a beautiful flick around the corner to Foden. He would also deliver a perfectly lofted pass through to Kane using the swift snap of his foot.
When Alexander-Arnold reached a certain point, he transformed into a different player. He became the driving force, making runs into the opponent’s box with determination. There was a resemblance to Gerrard in his play, as if he wanted to receive his own pass. He took a first-time shot from the corner of the penalty area, aiming for the top corner. Unfortunately, it sailed over the bar due to England’s lackluster performance. However, on a lackluster night, it was a glimmer of hope.
Conor Gallagher was on the opposing side of England’s midfield. He was substituted at half-time after barely being involved in the game, highlighting the reliance on Alexander-Arnold. Later, Cole Palmer was substituted in and provided some excitement with his quick footwork on the right side. This was a rare moment of freshness on a night where manager Southgate seemed hesitant to try anything new. However, he did make a change with Alexander-Arnold, who was the last player to leave the field at Wembley long after most fans had already departed.
There were some similar messages present in this location. Ultimately, there will be an opening in England’s midfield this summer alongside Rice and Jude Bellingham, who was greatly needed – despite the fact that he should not have been. In a night that was easily forgettable, there is one potential realization: Alexander-Arnold is likely closer to being a starting player for England and having a greater role within the team than we previously thought.