Eight weeks into the season, there are only two players with more Ligue 1 goals than Folarin Balogun – Kylian Mbappe and Neymar. The Hale Ender continued his fine start to life in France with his sixth goal in eight matches for Stade de Reims as they were held to a 2-2 draw by Troyes over the weekend.
It’s quite the turnaround for Balogun who is coming off the back a loan spell with Middlesbrough in the second half of last season that he admitted was frustrating at times. “I’m at the age where it’s really important to be playing regularly,” the 21-year-old said. “At Middlesbrough it was stop-start, I wasn’t playing as much. This season it was important to choose a team where I knew I was able to play and show what I can do.”
Even the most optimistic of Arsenal fans would surely have thought such an impressive beginning to his Ligue 1 loan spell was beyond the realms of possibility. For Mikel Arteta however, this has all been part of the plan.
It had looked at one point that Balogun may be about to leave the club on a free transfer when his contract begun to run down in the spring of 2020. However, both Edu and Arteta were able to convince him to stay by revealing his role in the Gunners’ project to him.
“Just trying to, first of all understand, why he got to the point that he was really thinking about leaving the football club after being raise here and the feelings that he has built towards the club,” said Arteta when asked to explain how the club had talked the Hale Ender into committing his future to Arsenal. “Once you understand the position of him try to explain what you want to do, how involved he’s going to be in the project and how.”
That didn’t immediately translate into game time for Balogun though who found minutes hard to come by in the opening half of last season. Even in Carabao Cup matches the England under-21 international found himself on the bench prompting questions as to whether he had made the right decision. Arteta though revealed that easing him in slowly was an important part of Arsenal’s plan for him.
“With Flo we have a really clear project,” he told football.london after Balogun had failed to come on in the Gunners’ 2-0 win over Leeds in the Carabao Cup fourth round last season. “The steps that he’s making they are the right steps. Don’t forget he’s still really young and hasn’t played almost any professional football and you need to go through every phase and don’t try to bend phases when you are not ready to do so. Again I am really happy with him. He’s doing all the right progress.”
Thus far it does appear that Balogun is certainly taking the right steps that his manager spoke about. Loaning young players out to France has already been a successful strategy for Arsenal when it comes to young centre back William Saliba who is now an essential part of the Gunners’ first team. Balogun will be hoping he can follow in the Frenchman’s footsteps and if he keeps up this scoring record he will become very difficult for Arteta to ignore.