For once, a section of the perpetually complaining Arsenal fanbase is happy. A demand to return to the 4-4-2 system that Arsenal used in the successful period between 1997 and 2005 has, for the moment, been met. For the last two league matches, Arsenal have played a sort of 4-4-2 system, with Alexis Sánchez playing in a #10/second striker role. The role is a familiar one: it is where Alexis made his name at Udinese, playing behind Antonio Di Natale, and it is also the kind of withdrawn creative forward role that Alexis plays for Chile, notably at the World Cup. At Arsenal, Alexis has played in a sort of pairing with Danny Welbeck, in front of a cautious midfield pairing of Mathieu Flamini and Mikel Arteta, giving Alexis the platform to play a free role.
The rest of the side has familiar roles: Santi Cazorla plays on the left, in a wide playmaker role that, incidentally, is a new role in Football Manager 15. Cazorla drifts inside, with the space taken up by Alexis, who likes drifting to the left, and Kieran Gibbs, who is, as Calum Chambers revealed post-match, making more purposeful attacking runs, as shown in the chalkboard below. This requires one of Arsenal's midfielders to drop a little deeper, either to the left, or to the middle, allowing Monreal to shift out to the left as Arsenal build play. On Saturday, this slowed Arsenal's tempo, as that midfielder was often Mathieu Flamini. Once Aaron Ramsey came on, Arsenal moved the ball quicker and more purposefully, and Ramsey was heavily involved in the build-up to the first two Arsenal goals.
The result of this system is to give Alexis the freedom to pick up the ball where he wants, and to drive forward. One thing that was noticeable about his two goals on Saturday was the deep position Alexis has as the ball is played in from the wide areas, giving him space to get in a position to best opposition centre backs. Alexis spent a lot of the match playing just outside of the 18-yard box, probing with his passing, and driving with his runs.
The integration of Aaron Ramsey into the system was interesting too. He played perhaps like the 13/14 Ramsey for the first time in some time, which saw Ramsey more involved in the build-up play, and making late runs, rather than the early runs that were a feature of his play in the 4-1-4-1 system. Mathieu Flamini made several late runs, as did Mikel Arteta, and thus it won't unbalance Arsenal's defensive side of the game, not least because of the incredible amount of pressing that Alexis and Danny Welbeck do. That is also a feature of Aaron Ramsey's game, and better pressing from the entire team will only make Arsenal a stronger defensive unit.
There are two potentially problematic questions for Arsène Wenger: how to bring Theo Walcott and, later, Mesut Özil back into the side. Wenger spoke of Walcott's reintroduction into the Arsenal side, cautioning that Arsenal must find the right balance. Because of that, it may be unlikely for Arsenal to play all of Walcott, Sanchez and Danny Welbeck, without another player of the attacking front four to provide balance. As of now, that role can be taken by Santi Cazorla, and Alexis can continue to play as a #10, with Walcott playing on the right. That won't be entirely different from the role Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has been playing, and it was noticeable that Oxlade-Chamberlain's best moments on Saturday came when he tried to diagonally get behind Burnley's defence with the type of run Theo Walcott has trademarked.
But when Mesut Özil returns, he will find his preferred #10 role taken by Alexis. There are a couple of systems Arsenal could utilise. There has been a lot of talk on social media of Arsenal playing a diamond 4-4-2, like last season's Liverpool. That would see Özil playing behind the strikers, with Ramsey, Arteta and another central midfielder further behind, providing both creativity and runs from deeper positions. Or, Arsenal could play 4-2-3-1 with Alexis left but with Özil in a more withdrawn role, closer to Aaron Ramsey and Mikel Arteta, giving Arsenal a safe base in possession, giving the balance that would allow Alexis to create for Walcott and Welbeck, and also to make auxiliary runs.
All of this flexibility is possible to the brilliance of Alexis. Not only has he become decisive, but he also provides Arsenal with the flexibility to fit their best players into the side, because he not only scores and creates, but he balances it out with an incredible work-rate. As Arsène Wenger tries to create a more efficient, flexible side, Alexis is an example to all.