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Just Go With The Flo

By Sumaiya Vawda

Balog-in, Balogun-ner, Balogun-man. His name supplies sufficient headline fodder, and his decision to remain at Arsenal offers him the chance to craft a story to boot. Folarin Balogun recently penned a four-year deal at Arsenal, following almost a year-long furore regarding his future. According to Fabrizio Romano, the academy-graduate garnered admiration from 15 clubs looking to sign him as a free agent in the summer, most prominent amongst them Bayer Leverkusen. The appeal of the Bundesliga to English talents, Balogun's relatively meagre first-team minutes and another Arsenal youngster filling Arteta's striking options weighed against the club's chances of retaining him.

Losing a prolific youth goalscorer for only a training compensation would represent poor foresight, especially given the uncertainty surrounding Alex Lacazette and Eddie Nketiah amidst a Covid-impacted market. Thus, extending the stay of a precocious talent trained at Hale End since the age of nine can be seen as a mini victory on the path to a (hopeful) future of effective recruitment and squad management. If you watch Balogun's youth highlights reel, you may find yourself mouth agape more than once. There's Cruyff turns, long-range chips, deft touches, swift feet and goals, goals, goals. He has scored 9 and assisted 3 in the PL2 this season, where the team have struggled for consistency. Per youth-team blogger Jeorge Bird, Balogun amassed 38 goals in 41 games for the U18s and 22 goals in 48 games for the U23 side, which he now captains.

The 19-year old combines hard running with clinical composure. Balogun's spells at left-wing have proven him capable of providing scoring opportunities for teammates. When called on for his first senior appearance, he used his very first touch to set the ball, turned, and scored with his second touch. This was a manifestation of his acute technique, which is present even on his weaker left foot. He has two goals and an assist in his five cameo appearances in the Europa League. Overall, there is hope his technique translates to senior returns. Regardless of where one stands on Arteta's man-management, he seems to play the right chords on contract extensions- having convinced Aubameyang, Saka and Balogun of their place at Arsenal and the club's future trajectory. Indications are that Arteta has plans to integrate Balogun into his group of strikers for next season, since playing time has been the player's key concern.

On the surface, it seems a solid vote of confidence. Flo Balogun has represented both England and the US at international level- the latter eligibility holding high commercial prospect. He joins a crop of young players, including Bukayo Saka and Gabriel Martinelli, that Arsenal have on long-term deals. The club is also seeking to tie down Emile Smith Rowe, which marks an intent of committing to young talent. In a team still seeking attacking Flo(w), Folarin Balogun's extension adds to the youthful glow of this season. Since this deal once seemed doomed for a free exit, it's positive not having to write a Balo-gone elegy.

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