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Arsenal 'not close' to signing Cazorla: Wenger

KUALA LUMPUR -- Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger denied he was close to signing Spain's Santi Cazorla as the English soccer giants kicked off an Asian tour Tuesday with a narrow 2-1 victory over hosts Malaysia.

Wenger dismissed speculation the Gunners had agreed terms with the Malaga winger and instead joked his sights were now on the Malaysian team, following their strong performance.

“We are not close to signing Cazorla. We are still working that out,” Wenger told reporters immediately after the match in the capital Kuala Lumpur.

“Maybe I sign some Malaysian players based on their performance today. Their defense was good, and their keeper was fantastic,” he added.

Arsenal, along with other English clubs, are hugely popular in Malaysia and elsewhere in Asia. In a bid to build up their fan base in the region, the Gunners and other squads have gone on summer tours, enjoying rapturous welcome.

In Malaysia, the Arsenal players were treated like rock stars, mobbed by droves of fans as they arrived by bus at their hotel on Sunday, and some 10,000 people attended their open training session on Monday, organizers said.

About 50,000 tickets were sold for the game against Malaysia XI, a select squad of Malaysian League players, in the 100,000-capacity Bukit Jalil National Stadium.

But despite their 2-1 victory, the match exposed Arsenal's reliance on captain Robin van Persie, their star striker and top scorer in the English League last season with 37 goals who was absent in Malaysia.

Although the Gunners have signed German striker Lukas Podolski and Frenchman Olivier Giroud, van Persie is still the team's key player, but the Dutchman rejected a new contract offer earlier this month.

During much of the game against Malaysia XI, the hosts held firm and Arsenal could not find a way past goalkeeper Norazlan Razali.

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Arsenal's Gervinho, left, fights for the ball with Malaysia's Norazlan Razali during their friendly soccer match in Bukit Jalil Stadium, some 20 kilometers south of Kuala Lumpur, Tuesday, July 24. (AFP)

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