Sometimes players are universally loved from the off. This is rare. More often than not, footballers will divide opinion and create fevered debate as to their merit. Joe Allen, Brendan Rodgers' first major signing when he came to Liverpool, is one such man. The Welshman's progress at Anfield has been profoundly impaired by injury, but whilst on the pitch, he has struggled to maintain the kind of consistency that endears players to fans.
After an impressive run of form to begin his time at the club, Allen's impact and effectiveness tailed-off badly. It has since emerged that he was playing despite an injured shoulder, but the fragility in the tackle and the frailty in possession that he showed over that period have lived longer in the minds of most fans than the tidy and effective performances which made his first impressions.
To give Allen his due, his technical proficiency cannot be questioned and he has rarely been utilised in his best position, as an advanced midfielder with licence to get forward and link the play to the forwards. Liverpool's midfield woes have been analysed to within an inch of their lives but it is fair to say that Allen has yet to consistently show the kind of form his manager expected when the diminutive international player followed him from Swansea to Merseyside.
As Brendan Rodgers continues to play Steven Gerrard as the base of his midfield unit, Allen has managed on a few occasions to form a very dynamic trio with the skipper and Jordan Henderson, but it has been the young Englishman and the magical unicorn that is Philippe Coutinho that have been the most effective trio for the Reds. Given Gerrard's ubiquity and Henderson's happy knack of doing a human impression of a perpetual motion machine, the simple choice that faces Rodgers on Sunday is between the Brazilian and the Carmarthen man.
Allen is aware of how impressive his team mates have been of late, with the cup defeat being the first one in ten matches. He was delighted to be back in the reckoning and grateful to have started and finished the game, given his horrendous misfortune with injuries.
"I've not been surprised," said the 23-year-old. "I know the quality we've got in this dressing room. We're looking forward to the last 12 games now to really put a big push in, give everything in every game and see where that takes us. I was looking forward to the opportunity to play, the first time in a while to get a start. Unfortunately, I wasn't part of a winning performance but I'm happy to get 90 minutes under my belt."
Displaying the kind of positive attitude he is sure to have needed over the long weeks in rehab, the talented midfielder refused to be downhearted and saw many positives emerging from the Emirates' defeat. He also praised the character and resilience of his teammates and insisted those characteristics would be vital in the weeks to come.
"We never know when we're beaten and that's a great characteristic to have," Allen averred. "We've got strong personalities in that dressing room that will make sure we give everything until the very end. Naturally, we're really disappointed to get knocked out of the cup. We certainly played well enough to have got a win, never mind a draw, on another day. I think there are positives in the sense that we created chances and played some good stuff, but unfortunately we conceded two goals and that's the end of our cup run.
"If you analyse the game, there are probably not many faults that you could see in our game. It's disappointing not to have come through; but, of course, at the Emirates against a very good Arsenal team it was never going to be easy. People always talk about the sign of a great team is to bounce back as soon as you do have a disappointment - that will be the case for us now. Our focus turns straight to that game and playing at Anfield has been brilliant for us this season. We're hoping to make sure we play well and get the three points."
Like many Redmen, I have been impressed by Allen at his best and vaguely affronted by the Welshman at his worst, all the while knowing that he is a very good footballer, who will be a tremendous asset to Brendan Rodgers' Liverpool should he find the consistency and freedom from injury that have so far eluded him.