Alexander Hleb, now a journeyman will be remembered by Arsenal fans for never shooting and his love of passing even when the goal was in sight. This shows in a somewhat paltry goal return of 7 goals in 89 games in his 3 seasons at Arsenal.
Before joining Arsenal, Hleb was a star of the Bundesliga plying his trade for Stuttgart scoring a slightly more impressive 13 goals in 137 appearances and finishing top of the assist charts in his final season for Stuttgart. Renowned as a tricky dribbler, Hleb was in fact the playmaker for Stuttgart and dictated much of their good play on their way to finishing 2nd in 2002-3 which was a marked improvement upon previous mid-season finishes.
Hleb joined Arsenal for a fee that could have risen as high as £10 million but in the end was approximately £8 million. In his introductory season he made an impressive 39 appearances including an appearance in Arsenal’s 2-1 loss to Barcelona in the Champions League final playing LM and his transition to replacing Pires was complete when Pires was chosen to be taken off after Lehmann’s sending off.
With Rosicky joining the squad in the summer of 2006 and Pires leaving to join Villarreal, Hleb formed part of a formidable midfield 4 of Rosicky-Gilberto-Fabregas-Hleb. In a weird season for Arsenal with the only thing of note being the fact we finished runners-up to Chelsea in the League Cup, a final in which Hleb came on as a substitute,Hleb managed to rack up 48 appearances but just 3 goals.
In the next season Hleb again lined up on the right wing with Flamini replacing Gilberto in the centre of the park. This season Arsenal dominated and showed despite having lost Henry what a talented team they were. Unfortunately the season began to come to a head with the 2-2 loss to Birmingham which included Eduardo’s broken leg. Hleb performances near the end of the season dropped notably and it seemed his agent had turned his head, his season ended with a post game ban for Hleb slapping Reading defender Graeme Murty. This was the last time he played for Arsenal as he got a move to Barcelona in the summer of 2008 for a pricely fee of almost £13 million.
Hleb spent one season at Arsenal and to many Arsenal fans delight he played very little. Arsenal fans were hurt at the way Hleb had left and shown a lack of commitment in the second half of the season. At Barcelona he spent much of the season on the bench and though he managed to pick up a Copa Del Rey and La Liga medal he was resigned to leaving after not even making the bench for Barcelona’s 2-0 Champions League final win over Manchester United.
He turned down the opportunity to sign for Inter Milan, mistake as they went to win the treble, to return to Stuttgart where he featured prominently racking up 36 appearances but again showed his ability to shy away from the goal with just 1 goal all season. He then went on loan to Birmingham City for the 2010-11 season and fortunately was injured when they beat us in the League Cup final. His season was plagued by injury and he made just 20 appearances. He didn’t want to return to Birmingham but left saying ” I would like to continue for a club in the Premier League but Birmingham do not suit my taste…….. Yes, I would be interest in Arsenal”. Wenger ignored this call for help and left Hleb to think about how the grass isn’t always greener on the other side.
For his last season at Barcelona he spent the first 6 months on loan to the Bundesliga outfit Wolfsburg before he had his contract cancelled by mututal consent and he joined the Russian giants Krylia Sovetov for 6 months. This year he plys his trade at Bate Borisov back in Belarus but Hleb must be wondering how he has fallen so greatly. Part of an Arsenal team that very much had the potential to win big things and would have done so had things not gone against them in 2007-8 season he tried to reach for the stars but ultimately fell hard to earth back in Belarus. I hope he is a lesson to others to repay the faith Arsene has shown in you as life isn’t always better elsewhere.
For more Arsenal news follow me @ArsenalMez