Writer: Tim Stillman
Date:Friday November 2 2007
With the Arsenal still in immaculate form throughout October, player of the month was once again a difficult chance. The usual suspects were once again in contention, with Cesc Fabregas continuing his imperious form, not to mention his goalscoring exploits. Kolo Toure is once again flawless and showing real signs of leadership, the likes of which I had not really seen from him prior to this season. Mathieu Flamini has maintained his fine form, whilst Gael Clichy insists on never putting a lightning foot wrong.
However, this moth I felt there was an outstanding candidate, and that candidate is Alex Hleb. Not since Sylvain Wiltord has a player polarised Gooner consensus quite so much as this guy. Personally, I've always been a big fan. Hleb appears to be the archetypal marmite player, you wither love him or you hate him. But even his most ardent critic has to concede that he has been absolute dynamite this month, indeed this whole campaign. I felt he had an excellent campaign last year, save for the last two months. Widely scapegoated for Arsenal's Champions' League exit, the groaning and catcalling at his every involvement (at home games anyway) clearly sapped his confidence and he tailed off into obscurity with the rest of the team. But this year, Hleb has added more to his impressive ietenary, the final ball seems to be much better. I have to be honest and say I think this is largely due to Henry's absence, we now have two strikers whose movement demands attention, as opposed to a posturing caricature standing dormant on the halfway line. Hleb has always been at the hub of our every attacking move, but with the reigns removed, he has been able to strike up a telepathic partnership with fellow playmaker Cesc Fabregas.
In October, Hleb has played variously on the right, the left and down the middle and looked a threat in all positions. Arsene Wenger is forever repeating his mantra that a good player can play anywhere, well Alex Hleb is a very good player indeed! His month began with a decent performance away at Steaua Bucharest, typically he was the brains behind Robin van Persie's winner, seizing a quick throw to send Adebayor into space, which resulted in the cutback for van Persie's sumptuous strike. The 3-2 thriller against Sunderland also saw him appear on the right and left flanks, and his through ball to Theo Walcott was pivotal in Robin van Persie grabbing a winner. Both of the aforementioned examples typify Hleb and perhaps go some way to explaining why he is so underappreciated. He is usually the catalyst behind our every move, dropping deep to pick up position, he lubricates the wheels of attack, even if he doesn't always provide the finishing touches.
But it was after the international break when Hleb really came into his own. Demoralised by Belarus' humiliating defeat to Luxembourg, Hleb redoubled his determination and put in a fine performance against Bolton. Once again, it was his eye of the needle ball which set Theo Walcott through to assist Tomas Rosicky for the second goal. But his coup de grace would arrive in the seven goal demolition of Slavia Praha. The display was Bergkampesque in it's ingenuity and poise. A wonderful assist for Fabregas in the opening minutes set the pattern, down by the corner flag, he teased two defenders before weaving a wonderful ball to Cesc to shoot home the first. It was his shot which deflected in off of Hubacek for our second. But in the second half he was simply peerless, even Fabregas at full tilt could not match him. Hleb picked up the ball from a Praha corner and ran fity yards, slaloming between two Praha defenders before delivering a pass to Adebayor, which was the catalyst for a one tocuh move which saw Fabregas score. The Belarussian Ronaldinho provided a beautifully weighted pass, executed with space and time at a premium. Robert Pires would have applauded. Hleb scored the sixth himself, cutting onto his right foot from the left wing. He was not on the pitch for the final goal, but I'm sure shooting the ball a delicate glance from the bench was ample persuasion for Bendtner's finish to go in off the post.
Hleb continued his fine form with another sensational display at Anfield on Sunday. Playing in a free role behind the striker, he caused Liverpool problems that they had no answer to. Time and again we saw his familiar twinkling feet wriggle away from Mascherano and Alonso, I would venture to say that there is not a player in our league whose close control can match Hleb's. What has come into question has been his final product, he went further to slay those enquiries on Sunday with yet another perfect slide rule pass for Fabregas' equaliser. Aliaksandr Hleb is a player who simply does not earn enough credit, because he shuns the limelight and attention. But Kolo Toure came out with a brilliant saying earlier this month in respect of his own anonimity in the eyes of the press, 'you cannot hide the sun in your hands.' The days may be drawing in in October, but if Alex Hleb's humble USSR beginnings are anything to go by, Arsenal's October sun is certainly still rising in the East.LD.
Date:Friday November 2 2007
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