Folarin Balogun and the Arsenal Dilemma: What’s next?

Revant Maheshwari
By Revant Maheshwari
8 Min Read

The relationship and future between Arsenal Football Club and Folarin Balogun has been uncertain for quite some time now. Whether the Hale End graduate will stay at his boyhood club or leave in hopes of regular minutes is a question yet to be answered.

How it all started

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Balogun was approached by Arsenal scouts when he was 8 years old. After rejecting The Gunner’s North-London nemesis, Tottenham Hotspur who wanted to sign the American after a trial with the club, Balogun chose to build a future at Hale End.

The striker made his way to the U-21 Arsenal side which featured in the Premier League 2 Division 1 competition. At the age of 16, Balogun had featured in 7 matches of which he started 2 and scored once in the 2017-18 season which saw his club lift the Premier League 2 title. After another insignificant campaign in 2018-19, Balogun signed a professional contract in February 2019 and went on to have higher involvement in his side’s Premier League 2 campaign.

The 2019-20 season was the first sign of the young striker’s potential as Balogun found the net 10 times and got 3 assists in 13 starts for the U-21 side. The following 2020-21 season in The Premier League 2 again saw the 19-year-old striker getting minutes and scoring 8 times in 18 starts.

The 2020-21 season was significant for Balogun as he was given his first senior debut for the club by Mikel Arteta in The Europa League group match against Dundalk in October 2020. With more minutes given to him in The European competition, Balogun’s first-ever senior goal for Arsenal came less than a month later against Norwegian side FC Molde. In April 2021 near the end of the season, he secured a long-term contract with the club, showing signs of an optimistic future together.

The 2021-22 season was a tad bumpy for the striker. Despite making his debut in the Premier League in August 2021 in a 2-0 loss to Brentford, Balogun was mostly confined to the U-21 side. However, the American showed red-hot form in the Premier League 2, registering 14 goals and 2 assists in 11 starts.

The January transfer window of the 21-22 season saw Balogun join Championship side Middlesbrough on loan till the end of the season. During this spell, he managed an underwhelming 3 goals and 3 assists in 18 matches and returned to Arsenal.

2022-23: Loan at Reims

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Mikel Arteta deemed Balogun as surplus at the start of the season when new star-signing Gabriel Jesus and backup striker Eddie Nketiah were available for selection. Considering Balogun’s inexperience in the league and the pecking order, a loan move to Ligue 1 side Reims was sanctioned for the striker.

Balogun went on to establish a name for himself as one of the most promising young strikers in his overwhelming loan spell at Reims. A campaign that saw him scoring in his debut against Marseille, equalising in stoppage time to seal a draw with PSG and bagging his first senior hat-trick against Lorient meant that in February 2023 Balogun was Ligue 1’s top scorer.

He finished the season with 22 goals and was only behind Kylian Mbappe, Alexandre Lacazette and Jonathan David in the French league’s highest scorers.

This wildly successful loan spell made 21-year-old Balogun one of Europe’s most sought-after strikers and a first call-up to play for The USMNT in June 2023. He ended his stellar season with an icing on top by scoring in the CONCACAF Nations League Final victory against Canada.

Back to Arsenal and transfer speculation

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After being given an extended break due to his participation for The USMNT, Balogun returned to training with his Arsenal team-mates last week to prepare for the Gunner’s pre-season which is particularly crucial for the American striker. Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta is certainly keeping an eye on him and deciding how to move forward with the situation especially after Balogun declared that he will not be leaving the club for another loan spell again.

Balogun featured in his club’s first pre-season game this season in the 1-1 draw vs FC Nurnberg. After coming on as a substitute in the 55th minute, he was heavily involved up-front and looked bright despite missing a glorious opportunity to seal victory for his side in the dying minutes.

It is understood that Folarin Balogun either wants to permanently leave the club for consistent playing time or be integrated into the Arsenal first team for regular action in their pivotal 2023-24 season. Strong interests in the striker have been reported on multiple occasions with clubs RB Leipzig, AC Milan and Chelsea emerging as the top contenders.

Leipzig saw the departure of their two prolific attackers: Christopher Nkunku to Chelsea and Dominik Szoboszlai to Liverpool for a combined fee of around £112m. This means that the club has cash to splurge and a need to acquire reinforcements up front.

AC Milan are looking to build on their positive league campaign and with funds available from the sale of Sandro Tonali to Newcastle United, could emerge as a serious destination for Balogun.

Another surprising speculation was ignited when it was recently reported that Arsenal’s London rivals Chelsea held talks with Balogun’s agents.

What’s next?

Hopes of Balogun continuing at Arsenal don’t appear particularly optimistic at this stage with the striker not budging on another loan move or fewer minutes. Apart from competition from Gabriel Jesus and Nketiah, new signing Kai Havertz plays a significantly deeper role up-front as well. The Champions League winner could almost certainly be expected to start and with Jesus undoubtedly retaining the first-choice number 9 role for Arteta, things do not look good for Folarin Balogun.

It is understood that the player is available for sale but given his potential, Arsenal are not willing to let their man leave for less than a massive reported sum of £50m.

The upcoming pre-season USA Tour will be a significant stage for Balogun to show Mikel Arteta and Gooners that he can be given a chance. Whether any clubs match Arsenal’s asking price is also going to be something to watch out for.

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