England's Trent Alexander-Arnold experiment must end now - and this is how they should change

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England should make changes for a potentially crucial group stage clash with Slovenia on Tuesday.

It was a comment that provoked frustration from England supporters and must have caused some bewilderment within the Three Lions ranks.

As Gareth Southgate provided his assessment of Thursday’s desperately underwhelming draw with Denmark, there was a suggestion he felt he was yet to find a ‘natural replacement’ for midfielder Kalvin Phillips. Whilst it should not be forgotten the former Leeds United star did help England reach their first men’s major tournament final since 1966 just three years ago, using a player that has sat on the sidelines for large periods of his time at Manchester City and endured a torrid loan stint at West Ham United as a reference point felt like a bitter pill to swallow.

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Phillips, at his best, was a hive of energy and enthusiasm in the heart of the England side that reached the final of Euro 2020 and his work-rate helped the Three Lions solidify defensively to keep five consecutive clean sheets at the tournament. Yet Phillips, who remains a Manchester City, has not been named in an England squad since he made a late substitute appearance in a 1-1 draw against North Macedonia in November last year and has not started for the Three Lions since a 3-1 home win against Italy just a month earlier.

During the time that has passed, Manchester United youngster Kobbie Mainoo and Crystal Palace prospect Adam Wharton have both been handed senior caps and impressed sufficiently to land a place in Southgate’s Euro 2024 Finals squad. Southgate favourite Jordan Henderson has been cast aside following unsuccessful sojourns in the Saudi Arabia Pro League and with Dutch giants Ajax and Conor Gallagher seems to be viewed as the nearest version of Phillips after being entrusted with substitute appearances in England’s first two fixtures at this summer’s tournament.

Southgate’s latest ‘experiment’ to replace Phillips was utilising Trent Alexander-Arnold in midfield in a bid to get the best out of the Liverpool star and allow him to showcase his stunning range of passing from the heart of the pitch. It would be churlish to suggest Alexander-Arnold has not shown any positive signs during the win against Serbia and Thursday’s draw with the Danes - but it feels increasingly like this experiment should be brought to a close and the consigned to history.

Southgate himself seemed to suggest so after the latter game, telling BBC Sport: "He's (Alexander-Arnold) had some moments where he has delivered what we thought he would. We know it is an experiment - we don't have a natural replacement for Kalvin Phillips - but we are trying some different things. At the moment, we are not flowing as we would like, that's for sure. I wanted to get Conor on, we needed some energy to press better and Conor does that very well."

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So what comes next and why did Southgate’s Alexander-Arnold ‘experiment’ spill into a major tournament, rather than being carried out over a more lengthy period in previous Euro 2024 qualifiers and pre-tournament friendlies? That is not to blame Alexander-Arnold, who has the unquestionable talent and ability to grace any squad in the tournament if he is utilised in his natural position as an adventurous and attack-minded right-back. There may well be some questions over his defensive ability - but the Liverpool academy graduate has the uncanny ability to influence a game, even from a defensive position.

If he is to be used throughout the remainder of the tournament, it should be in that position - although usurping Kyle Walker will not be an easy task and seems unlikely. It seems Southgate has a number of options to consider as he moves on from the unsuccessful attempts to integrate Alexander-Arnold into midfield. Does he trust Mainoo, a young player that ran the FA Cup Final against Man City just over a month ago, enough to throw him into midfield and allow the Manchester United youngster to carry the momentum of a breakthrough season into the heat of battle at the Euros?

England's Kobbie Mainoo during a press conference at Schlossverein Blankenhain in Blankenhain, GermanyEngland's Kobbie Mainoo during a press conference at Schlossverein Blankenhain in Blankenhain, Germany
England's Kobbie Mainoo during a press conference at Schlossverein Blankenhain in Blankenhain, Germany

Would he allow Adam Wharton, a young player that has shone since his move into the Premier League with Palace, to take his class and composure and stamp it on the England midfield in the same manner he has done in English football’s top tier? Or, more likely, will Southgate allow Jude Bellingham to drop into a deeper position alongside Declan Rice, give Phil Foden the number ten position he seems to crave and allow the surprisingly unused Anthony Gordon or Cole Palmer to gain their first minutes of the tournament?

I took to social media in the aftermath of the Danish draw to suggest with 65 goal contributions (goals and assists) in a combined 96 appearances in all competitions between them last season, the fact neither Gordon or Palmer has enjoyed even a second of action in England’s first two games is questionable to say the least. Both players have shown they can influence games in the Premier League and have enjoyed stellar seasons at club level.

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Surely now is time to introduce one or both of them, forget the Alexander-Arnold experiment, and ensure the energy and enthusiasm England have been missing returns in time for what we hope will be a successful venture into the knockout stages.

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