Don't bluff, buy a striker, Wenger

Arsenal's manager Arsene Wenger

Arsene Wenger claimed he wasn't a good poker player on Thursday morning (Singapore time). He was bluffing and it was obvious.

So he's right. He isn't a particularly good poker player.

After dismantling a comically inept Fenerbahce side 3-0, the Arsenal manager insisted that his browsing and bartering in the transfer market starts now. It's time for his best poker face.

Bluff and bluster are the order of the day as managers lie, distract and subvert the truth in a lastditch effort to sign the best players available.

Wenger said he's in the hunt for a midfielder. Few people believe him.

He bluffed too early and revealed his hand prematurely. Arsenal are starved of goals. Wenger is shopping for a feast after a famine. His shopping list must be topped by a voracious striker.

Considering the Gunners swaggered past the Turks in the first-leg of the Champions League playoff, such a suggestion seems off-kilter. So let's dispatch with the obvious truisms quickly.

Fenerbahce were abject. They are currently the Arsenal of Turkish football - overhyped and under pressure. They threw away a 2-0 lead to lose 3-2 to newly promoted Konyaspor at the weekend and posed no threat on Thursday beyond the cheap, physical one.

Bad blood

The blood, guts and glory all belonged to the visitors - quite literally in the cases of the bloodied Laurent Koscielny, the scratched Wojciech Szczesny and the bruised Per Mertesacker.

Fenerbahce offered nothing beyond petty violence. The dismal striker Webo found the target only once - when his high, stray boot opened up Koscielny's head.

Still, knocking over 11 mannequins in Istanbul failed to obscure Arsenal's glaring frustrations.

Their dominance is seldom rewarded with goals. The end product isn't there. A striker remains their urgent order of business if the top-four target is to be achieved.

Wenger focused on his squad's lack of quantity, rather than quality, emphasising the importance of signing a midfielder to cope with the injury losses of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Mikel Arteta and Abou Diaby.

That's the bluff that few are willing to buy.

The derisory £10 million ($20m) bid for Newcastle's Yohan Cabaye does smack of a last-minute panic buy to swell the ranks, but Fenerbahce and Aston Villa both demonstrated that Arsenal's midfield isn't the most pressing problem.

On the contrary, Aaron Ramsey enjoyed one of his most accomplished evenings. A goal and an assist - the latter a lovely disguised, threaded pass through to the overlapping Theo Walcott to set up the opener - was the least he deserved for a commanding display in the middle.

Interestingly, he surged forward more than his colleague Jack Wilshere, who is acutely aware that his long-term ambitions are dependent upon an injury-free season of consistency.

Ramsey was the more attack-oriented of the two. Whether that came about through accident of design is a moot point.

Against the Turks, it worked. Ramsey dominated. His relationship with Wilshere remains wobbly, with resonant echoes of the old Frank Lampard-Steven Gerrard Three Lions debate. Are they too similar?

Are they compatible? Who stays? Who goes?

They are questions Wenger will continue to grapple with, but the exhibition in Istanbul at least hinted at one answer. Take the shackles off Ramsey and let him wander.

No cutting edge

But the Welshman's probing examination of a brittle backline was not followed up with the decisive incisions of a reliable surgeon. Fenerbahce were opened up, on their backs and practically comatose. Arsenal lacked the tools to put them out of their misery at the earliest opportunity.

The hosts failed to test Szczesny once in the first half. The Arsenal goalkeeper really had his palms stung only in the final minute. The Gunners monopolised possession, but they couldn't finish.

Olivier Giroud needed the penalty spot to finally find the net after struggling to leave an imprint on a game that his teammates thoroughly dominated. After a year, the jury is still out on the French striker and doesn't plan on returning any time soon.

In open play, the Gunners are still heavily reliant upon midfield for their goals - or even further back, Kieran Gibbs calmed nerves with his first Champions League strike - and that is likely to continue at Fulham tomorrow.

Wenger's men earned him a timely reprieve in Turkey, but he knows he cannot play chicken much longer with his chequebook.

The footballer that he pursued tirelessly throughout the British summer was Luis Suarez.

A striker.

That avenue is now closed, but the road to redemption rests on the shoulders of a new centre forward.

Wenger can't play Fenerbahce every week. Nor can he play poker. Real Madrid striker Karim Benzema is evidently waiting in the wings.

The Gunners still urgently need an end product - both on the pitch and in the transfer window.


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