Despite the fact that the transfer window does not open again until the summer, Arsenal are already very clear of what they need in the market – a centre forward.
The Gunners tried to sign one in January after showing interest in Fiorentina’s Dusan Vlahovic, only to see the Serbian join Juventus.
Alexander Isak and Dominic Calvert-Lewin were also considered as targets, but in reality Mikel Arteta‘s side ended up losing a player in the position when Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang moved to Barcelona on a free.
Alexandre Lacazette and Eddie Nketiah are both expected to leave as well when their contracts expire in the summer, meaning that Arsenal are in desperate need of a solution to their number nine crisis.
Now though, it seems they may have found one.
One of the earliest moves of last month saw Folarin Balogun complete a loan switch to Middlesbrough until the end of this season.
The 20-year-old had outgrown under-23s level football scoring 15 goals in 13 appearances for Kevin Betsy’s side this campaign, but had found senior game time hard to come by due to the lack of European football, and a number of players ahead of him in the pecking order.
In limited displays in the Carabao Cup against Sunderland and AFC Wimbledon, it looked as though Balogun might not yet have the confidence at senior level to express himself and it became clear that a loan move was needed.
There were questions over how the England Under-21 international would cope at the Riverside Stadium, but thus far he is thouroughly impressing.
Balogun picked up a match-winning assist in just his third appearance for Boro, and played a key part in the FA Cup giant-killing of Manchester United at Old Trafford.
However, it is what he did on his most recent appearance for Chris Wilder’s side against Derby that has sent social media into a frenzy.
As the Rams sought to play out from the back, Balogun seized upon a loose touch from Lee Buchanan in the penalty box. He was then immediately closed down by opposition ‘keeper Ryan Allsop, but performed a dragged backheel in order to nab the ball away from him and set up Duncan Watmore for Boro’s fourth goal of the day.
It’s reminiscent of a piece of skill he pulled off for the under-23s during this season’s Premier League 2 clash with Brighton, and is a sign that he is starting to find his confidence at senior level.
This kind of facilitative role is what Lacazette has excelled in doing recently, and with the Frenchman set to leave this summer, there is every chance that Balogun could be given an opportunity to replace him.
Signing two centre forwards is a big ask for any team in one window, so if Arsenal can rely on another of their Hale End talents to fulfil a key role in the squad then their plans may end up changing altogether.
While Arteta has generally been keen to downplay too much hype around Balogun as he continues his development, the Spaniard was willing to admit that his potential is only going to be helped by his spell playing senior football in the Championship.
“With Flo especially and the amount of minutes that he played here, and the level that he shows when he can only play with the under-23s, it was not fair,” the Spaniard said of the decision to send him to the Riverside.
“If we want to develop that player and maximise his potential, which is huge, we have to expose that player as quick as possible to the level he needs to be exposed.
“I was really confident that for him it was the right option and he was convinced, so when that happens we have to let the player go.”
It’s early days yet, and he still hasn’t scored his first goal for Boro, but if Balogun can keep up the form he has shown so far in the North East, then he may just have done Edu a massive favour ahead of the summer transfer window.