By Dan Brennan
Alexander Hleb capped another fine month of displays for Arsenal with some welcome recognition back in the old USSR.
The prestigious Sport Express CIS Player of the Month awards - in which sports journalists and fans across the 16 Former Soviet Republics vote for the best player from those countries, gave Alex their prize for March 2006, ahead of perennial winner, AC Milan's Andrei Shevchenko.
Fourteen of the 16 sports publications participating placed Hleb first or second, giving him a total of 64 points for the month, two ahead of Shevchenko. That leaves the Belarussian in second place behind the Milan striker in the overall rankings.
Former Spurs striker Sergei Rebrov, now back at his old club Dynamo Kiev, was seventh.
"It's really nice to get this award," said the Arsenal midfielder. "There are so many great players in the former USSR, playing at home and abroad for leading Western clubs. Getting this recognition just makes me want to go on and achieve bigger successes."
And while he's refusing to look too far ahead, the biggest prize on the horizon is, of course, the Champions League. And the Belarussian is confident Arsenal have what it takes to go all the way.
"I've no doubts that we have the capacity to win the Champions League. But all we can do is focus from game to game. So I'm not going to start talking about what it would mean to me to win it, because it's too early to start thinking about that."
He is also thrilled to see Arsenal recapturing their form in the league, and believes that this should be good enough to ensure a top four finish.
"Our performances in Europe, have given us a new positive impulse for the rest of the league campaign. We know we've dropped too many points in the Premiership this season, but as you can see from recent performances we're putting that right, and are in good shape for a charge up the table.
"The defence is now playing very well. Look at the clean sheets we've been keeping. The young players have come in and been fantastic. But it's the whole team that's doing it - defending as a unit and attacking as a unit. We're in total harmony. There's an amazing understanding now. We all know what each other is doing from first glance."
Hleb promises that, from a personal point of view, the best is yet to come, but says he is thrilled to be part of a team playing 'fantasy football':
"This is exactly why I came to Arsenal. I came here to learn and develop, and to play in a team that plays beautiful football. My dream is now coming true. This is to the credit of the manager, and all my teammates."
One of the most pleasing sub-plots of Arsenal's dazzling form of late has been the excellent understanding forged by Hleb and Emmanuel Eboue down the right flank.
"We've got a great understanding - he's been absolutely brilliant since coming into the team. But it's not just with him - I feel there's a great togetherness throughout the team."
And while not wanting to single any of his team mates out, he did have a special word of praise for fellow midfielder, Cesc, whose recent displays have been at the heart of the fine European performances.
"We're a young team, and we're progressing fast. Cesc has been super for us - it's incredible how good he is for such a young player. But it's not about the individuals - the thing that makes this team so strong is the collective spirit."
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