Arsenal insider and reporter for The Athletic, David Ornstein included an interesting note for Gunners fans in his latest article. He claims that Folarin Balogun, Arsenal U23s forward, is set to leave the club this summer after contract discussions broke down, with a lack of time with the first team this year as a key factor. However, looking at recent seasons for academy prospects, the forward depth chart, and even social media - there may be a different story.
Balogun has been with the Arsenal academy for years and is one of the club’s most promising prospects. Folarin has played 70 matches for the Arsenal U18s and 23s, scoring an amazing 50 goals and tallying 12 assists during that stretch. Thus it’s no wonder he was invited on the US preseason tour last summer and why many fans are excited about his potential in the future.
This past January, Brentford wanted to purchase Balogun, a clear example that clubs see him as someone who can start matches at the senior level. He would have no shortage of suitors both in England and abroad if he were to leave this summer. But there is a case against an exit:
1 - A recent history of success for Arsenal academy players
Ornstein claims one of the reasons a new contract hasn’t been signed yet is due to Unai Emery and Mikel Arteta not giving Folarin chances with the first team, while playing other academy products. But let’s take a closer look at the details here and the young players he mentions:
- Ainsley Maitland-Niles - 22 and been with the senior team for two seasons now
- Joe Willock - 20, began getting a few matches last year, and really broke through this season
- Eddie Nketiah - 21, has averaged 10 matches for the senior squad each of the past three years, and Arteta clearly values him
- Reiss Nelson - 20, got a full loan to the Bundesliga, and has been given 18 appearances this season
- Bukayo Saka - 18, a shining breakthrough this season playing both left winger and left back in over 30 matches already this campaign.
All five have come through the academy over the past few seasons and be given more time each year. So the club has clearly shown its willingness to play young talents - from Wenger, Emery and Arteta. Folarin Balogun is 18 (19 next month), so you wouldn’t expect him to have had as many chances as Nketiah or Nelson over the past two seasons. Especially when the club has had Aubameyang and Lacazette up top. This season Balogun led the line for the U23s, getting 10 goals and 4 assists from 16 matches. He has proven his worth, so there is every reason to expect Arteta to reward that moving forward.
2 - The path toward the senior team is there + the finances
The depth chart in front of him is Aubameyang, Lacazette, Martinelli, and Nketiah. Two of which are likely gone by next summer, leaving space for Balogun to break through at the senior level. In addition the club are not in a great financial place, so retaining a promising young striker makes sense so funds can be invested in defense and the midfield.
Between Martinelli, Nketiah and Balogun, odds are that at least one can develop into a Premier League level forward. Letting him leave now and potentially turn into another case like Serge Gnabry doesn’t make financial sense or for a club looking to rebuild with emerging talent.
3 - A hint from the player?
Now this one is a stretch, but the timing at least warrants a mention. Balogun rarely posts to social media, but hours after the report published, he shared a picture of him from first team training. Coincidence? Maybe. But it could also be a retort and an indication that there is more to the story here.
On a fun side note, Balogun was born in New York City and is eligible to play for the USMNT, as well as England and Nigeria. Although while he’s played for the US youth team in the past, Balogun has made 10 appearances with the England U18s so it’s his likely destination at the moment.
Folarin is clearly talented and Arsenal will need forward reinforcements over the next two seasons. Why spend big money, when they already have a prospect on the books that could fill that need? And why would he want to leave when the club has shown a proven path from the academy to the first team recently?
A new long-term contract, a year on loan and he could be ready step into the role of starting Cup ties/Premier League backup for the senior team for the 21-22 season. Plus that scenario gives Nketiah and Martinelli the 20-21 season a chance to flourish and give Arteta a better idea of their potential at the top level. Stay tuned.