Arsene Wenger has denied rumours linking Arsenal with a move for AC Milan striker Mario Balotelli, according to Matteo Bonetti of beINsports:
Jonny Singer of the Daily Mail provides Wenger's extended quotes when quizzed on the subject:
No. No, that’s pure invention. We cannot believe absolutely everything that is on internet or is in newspapers.
Sometimes it’s created by agents or by press who needs news. But in that case, it’s not true.
The Gunners boss was said to be heavily interested in the former Manchester City striker, who suffered a trio of mixed performances at the World Cup in Brazil.
While the Daily Star (h/t Chris Richards of the Mirror) indicated Wenger was due to meet Balotelli's agent, it now seems Milan will need to look elsewhere to offload the striker, who is putting major strain on their wage books after the Serie A side failed to gain Champions League football next season.
Ben Jefferson of the Express had suggested that Puma—who manufacture Arsenal's new kits and sponsor Balotelli—may have an impact on any potential deal, saying they "could help fund the deal due to their endorsement deal with the Italian." He indicated "the German sportswear giants are pressuring Arsenal to get a deal done before July 10."
However, this now seems highly unlikely if Wenger's comments are true.
Wenger is in need of a new striker, that much is known, after Olivier Giroud struggled to maintain goalscoring form throughout the 2013-14 campaign. The Frenchman certainly worked hard for the most part, but he needs world-class competition to bring the best out of his game and offer him a rest when the schedule intensifies after Christmas.
Balotelli is a prime candidate when you consider what Arsenal need up front. He is speedy and powerful enough to lead the line by himself, possesses classy finishing ability when in form and is a proven match-winner, as we saw against England in the World Cup. Unfortunately, as highlighted against Costa Rica and Uruguay, he can also offer very little when caught up in personal one-on-ones.
Dutch legend Ruud Gullit indicated Balotelli would be a risky move for Wenger, per Bonetti:
There's no doubt Balotelli remains an enigma at the age of 23. He is often the difference between two sides, for better or for worse.
Despite scoring vital goals for Inter, Manchester City, Milan and Italy, he's never notched over 14 in a domestic season, per WhoScored.com. Despite laying on key assists throughout his career, he's also received a handful of red cards to make his teammates' work more difficult.
Wenger distancing himself from the player makes sense. He will be wary of raising supporters' hopes after failing to make a major signing in January, and he will want to ensure he has the right man for the job. He needs to strike a fine balance with whoever is brought in; Giroud must be pushed without feeling overruled or unneeded. Balotelli wouldn't want to remain on the bench.
Let's not forget Arsenal bid £40 million-plus one for Liverpool bad boy Luis Suarez last season, indicating Wenger isn't particularly bothered by a troubled reputation. Considering Suarez is now being condemned across the globe for biting Giorgio Chiellini during Uruguay's World Cup match with Italy, per Tom Lutz of the Guardian, he may be relieved to have missed out.
But then again, how Arsenal could have used Suarez's 31 goals last season.
As such, Wenger has a real task on his hands when landing the right striking candidate for the future. His suggestion that Balotelli isn't in the running will give the French boss greater space to collect his thoughts ahead of improving the side this summer.
Arsenal are one great striker away from offering a sustained Premier League title challenge, indicating the next few weeks could be extremely exciting for the north London club.