Hleb: Wenger’s advice at Arsenal made me feel like I’d grown wings on my back

The former Gunners favourite says some words from his old manager helped him during a crisis of confidence following an injury lay-off

Former Arsenal favourite Alexander Hleb has recalled his relationship with Arsene Wenger, saying advice from the former Gunners boss made him feel “like I’d grown wings on my back”.

Hleb, who retired from playing in 2019, spent three years at Arsenal between 2005 and 2008 before leaving for Barcelona.

The former Belarus international could hardly overstate the impact Wenger had on his career, and he says the sight of an Arsenal dugout without Wenger in it still feels strange.

“It’s hard for me to imagine Arsenal without Wenger because to me Wenger is Arsenal and Arsenal is Wenger,” Hleb said in a documentary of his career.

“When Wenger was signing me, he just wanted me to adapt as quickly as possible and to have fun with the game, to do whatever it takes for the team, for results. I felt his support.

“Once I got injured, spent two months off the field, and it was hard to regain the flow, so I started having doubts about possibly returning to Germany.

“He just told me a couple of words which ended up having such a strong impact on me.

“I felt like I’d grown wings on my back. I was overwhelmed with emotions, eagerness, desire to live up to expectations.”

Hleb remains a popular figure among many Premier League fans, though at times during his Arsenal career he struggled to live up to expectations.

In 130 appearances in all competitions, Hleb found the net only 10 times.

Arsenal’s decline in the post-Invincibles era was clear to see, with Hleb only able to collect runners-up medals in the Champions League and League Cup during his time in north London.

Wenger remembers Hleb fondly, though, and seems to have little regret over his handling of the attacking midfielder.

“He was a guy you’d want to make happy,” Wenger said.

“Sometimes it seemed like something had cracked inside him, and I felt like I was responsible for helping him, for supporting his talent.

“You see, being a manager allows you to influence people’s lives, which is great, you can influence them positively, not negatively.

“And I felt that he needed warmth and understanding to realise his talent.”