Malaysia Goes Mad For Arsenal's Superstars

The cavernous Mid Valley Mall and Exhibition Centre in downtown Kuala Lumpur was packed to the rafters on Tuesday, with giddy fans desperate to catch a glance of a select group of Arsenal players. Jack Wilshere, Theo Walcott, Alex Song and Wojciech Szczesny were scheduled to arrive at 2pm local time but the crowds had been building long before with hundreds gathering outside the Nike store that would be the point of players’ grand entrance.

These events rarely run to time, though, and it was no surprise that the 2pm came and went without a sighting of the Gunners’ Four but just before 2.20pm loud cheers started to rumble, the music was cranked up and a battery of cameras flashed in anticipation. Then, however, the cheers subside and the cameras were put away when realisation dawned. Rather than Walcott and Wilshere appearing in the club’s new home shirt, an employee from the Nike store emerged. Talk about ruining the moment.

Fortunately, it wasn’t long before the star attractions arrived and they were given a suitably loud ovation – Arsenal are behind only Manchester United and Liverpool in popularity terms in these parts and their first visit to Kuala Lumpur since 1999 is big news.

For a select group of fans, local sports retailers and media, there was an opportunity to quiz the quartet but, thanks to careful policing by the sponsors, those potentially awkward questions about Cesc Fabregas, Samir Nasri et al were off the menu. But perhaps they might have been a little easier to deal with than a selection of the obscure ones that actually came their way. Take the moment Wilshere was probed over whether he had visited this part of the world before.

"Jack, have you ever been to Malaysia in secret?" Queue a bemused look from the England man and a rather short 'no' in reply. "You should do. We have many beautiful islands," retorted the Master of Ceremonies. '

It was, in so many ways, a surreal event. When you mixed together the excitement and energy of the crowd and the ear-piercing dance music that was being boomed out of the speakers, it felt more like a night at The Ministry of Sound, rather than a football club’s promotional appearance.

Yet the most curious sight was saved for last. Amid the sea of red and white jerseys that were on show, one in particular stood out from the crowd - it was the one that had ‘Balotelli 7’ on the back. Was this local merely confused or does he know something nobody else does? Arsene Wenger, after all, has room in his squad for a striker. Now wouldn’t that be a story?

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