Arsenal defeated Sunderland 2-0 last Saturday, thanks to two goals from Alexis Sanchez - the first time the Chilean had hit a double in an Gunners shirt.
Considering Arsene Wenger's side have often dominated games this season without converting good performances into goals, it was a welcome sight. Alexis, however, is far more than a mere goalscorer.
The goals themselves were both gifts, courtesy of a Sunderland defence lacking confidence following their 8-0 thrashing at the hands of Southampton the previous weekend.
The first arrived after a disastrous error in possession by centre back Wes Brown - although Alexis’ cool, dinked finish was extremely impressive - and the second came following a similarly unnecessary mistake by ex-Arsenal goalkeeper Vito Mannone. That time, Alexis could hardly miss.
Eight goals by the end of October is an impressive tally for Alexis, but what’s been particularly notable is the variation in his play, particularly in terms of positioning and movement.
In the modern game, attackers are increasingly asked to play multiple roles, and few are more adjustable than Alexis.
In basic terms, Alexis is capable of playing on the right, through the centre, and on the left flank - and he’s played all three roles impressively so far.
He made his league debut in the 2-1 opening-day victory over Crystal Palace, where he started on the right flank and dribbled dangerously at the Palace backline. His heatmap (Fig 2) tells the story - some touches in the centre, a few towards the left, but the vast majority on the right flank.
By the time Arsenal went to Stamford Bridge, however, things had changed. Alexis was now being fielded on the left flank, a position where he’s more of a goalscoring threat because he’s capable of checking inside and shooting with his favoured right foot.
Again, sometimes Alexis popped up in central positions, but he generally concentrated on working the left (Fig 3).
Against Sunderland, it was a different story yet again. This time, Alexis was most active in central positions - the heatmap suggests he spent longest in the middle of the pitch, rather than on the flanks.
That’s the basic element of Alexis’ versatility. But it’s slightly more complex than that, because Alexis is versatile in terms of depth, as well as width.
Few players share his ability to come short and become involved in link-up play, as well as his pace to get in beyond the opposition defence. The Chilean is capable of playing as either a penalty box poacher or a deeper-lying creator - or, indeed, playing both roles at once.
His performance in the 2-2 home draw with Hull City showed that dual role nicely. Alexis’ performance was weighted equally between scoring and assisting - he had three attempts on target, including one goal, denoted by the green arrows (see Fig 5). However, he also created three good chances, too, including the excellent pass for Danny Welbeck’s late equaliser.
In his relatively short career so far, Alexis has played a variety of roles for other sides.
For Marcelo Bielsa’s Chile side at the 2010 World Cup he was an outside right in an attack-minded team, but the following season he excelled for Udinese in Serie A as a counter-attacking No 10.
At Barcelona he was fielded on the right again, and sometimes as a central striker when Barca varied their system, while for Chile he started to play a hybrid role, as part-forward and part-playmaker, perhaps most similar to his position for Arsenal so far.
It means Alexis has thrived in a range of situations, and been challenged to adapt his game to various different situations.
He’s not a player that can easily be pigeon-holed, not someone who will suffer from a change of position, or a change of overall formation. Alexis is a man for all seasons - and 2014/15 is shaping up to be a good one for the Chilean.
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