Will Folarin Balogun being in “the wrong place at the wrong time” hurt Arsenal in the future?
By Daniel Finton (Deputy Editor)
When a club has a youth academy that produces quality youngsters on a relatively consistent basis, it is normal to see some fall through the cracks. Typically, the ones that do just lack that bit of talent to break into first team and eventually get to an age where they know full well that if they want a chance to make something out of their career, a move may be necessary. However, while talent tends to be the main preventer for youngsters getting a crack at the whip, that is far from the case for the 18-year-old, Folarin Balogun.
Balogun has been nothing short of outstanding at the youth level with the club. In 2019, when the Arsenal under-18’s won the league trophy for their division, Balogun was instrumental throughout the season. He bagged 25 goals and 4 assists in the under-18 Premier league in just 19 appearances. After such a fruitful season at this level, he was then promoted to the under-23’s this season. Balogun managed an impressive 10 goals and 4 assists in just 15 outings prior to the Coronavirus pandemic halting proceedings. Usually, a youngster tearing it up this much at the youth level would lead to an inevitable first team promotion, although Balogun's breakthrough timing has unfortunately for him been, very unucky.
These incredible stats indicate that talent is in fact not the issue for the New York city born striker. The issue for him is the incredible talent in front of him in the pecking order. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Alexandre Lacazette, Eddie Nketiah and possibly even Tyreece John-Jules are all preventing the incredible youngster from breaking through. All four of the aforementioned strikers bring something completely unique to the table, covering basically all fronts expected from any given striker in the modern game. Aubameyang is the out and out goal scorer (the title which Balogun most likely aspires for), Lacazette can hold the ball up and combine well with others and Nketiah is the industry man that relentlessly presses and also uses his athleticism to get into dangerous areas. John-Jules appears to offer an ability to play off the main striker, offering a bit more flexibility- although whether he’ll even make it is also in question. At the moment, despite his fine season with the under-23’s, there is really no direct path for Balogun into the first team.
In all truth, for Balogun at Arsenal, it just seems a case of being at the wrong place at the wrong time. Bukayo Saka managed to bag his chance because when he broke into the side we had a really poor set of wingers. Balogun’s time to start getting first team opportunities, which is typically when a player is his around his age (18, almost 19), has essentially perfectly intersected with the side actually having a quality trio of strikers for the first time in years. One could easily argue it is just a case of bad luck for Balogun, but you could also put forth a case for it being a tragedy for us.
If Balogun brings his goal scoring prowess elsewhere and that of Aubameyang and Lacazette leave the club, then Arsenal are going to look quite foolish. It does, unfortunately, seem imminent that the man eligible for the United States, England and Nigeria will be parting ways with the club. The ever-reliable Athletic have just recently reported that Balogun sees his future away from Arsenal.
Seeing as Balogun has just one year left on his current deal, which expires next summer, it is likely that the club are going to sell the man who turns 19 just four days from today. Balogun is yet to make his first senior appearance for the club, and this is reportedly the reason he has opted for a move away.
For Balogun, parting ways with the Gunners will certainly not be the end of the road. His incredible potential could undoubtedly see him have a great career. In my opinion, the party which suffers most from his imminent departure is Arsenal.
Though they play in different positions, Balogun’s youth presence gives me Serge Gnabry vibes and it would not surprise me to see him have an incredible career with a side that is not us.
Many fish slip through the cracks in such fantastic youth academies like Arsenal's, however they’re usually not this big and don’t often get this much recognition. The timing of Balogun’s coming up was off for all parties for there to be any kind of future with us, hopefully the inopportune moment of Balogun’s breakout doesn’t come back to bite us in the forthcoming years. The Gnabry “what if” pain is distressing enough.