Arsenal plot Folarin Balogun talks after stunning form changes summer plans

 (AFP via Getty Images)
(AFP via Getty Images)

Arsenal will hold talks with Folarin Balogun in the summer over his future at the club.

Balogun is on loan at French side Stade de Reims and has scored 17 goals in Ligue 1 this season. Only Jonathan David and Kylian Mbappe can better that tally, while no player aged 21 or under has scored more goals in Europe’s top five leagues this season.

Arsenal are closely monitoring Balogun’s progress, with loan manager Ben Knapper feeding reports to manager Mikel Arteta and sporting director Edu. The Gunners are braced for summer interest in the striker as they weigh up their options.

Arsenal may elect to integrate Balogun into the squad, but there will be a temptation to cash in on him now while his stock is high. The 21-year-old will have just two years left on his contract this summer.

Balogun can play anywhere across the forward line, which makes him an attractive option, however his departure would allow Arsenal to target a more physical striker. The club have scouted players in that mould recently, tracking ­Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Dusan Vlahovic, Tammy Abraham and Victor Osimhen.

Arsenal and all of Europe’s biggest clubs have taken note of 6ft 3in striker Rasmus Hojlund, who scored five goals in two games for Denmark last week despite being only 20.

Signing a tall, powerful striker would add a different dimension to Arsenal’s attack. Gabriel Jesus led the line well until he suffered a knee injury in December, while Eddie Nketiah has shown he is a dangerous penalty-box poacher. Leandro Trossard has emerged as a viable false nine.

The conundrum is where would Balogun fit into this, but he has given Arsenal a headache with his performances this season.

The striker would love to make the grade at the Gunners, where he came through the academy, and he has a photo of himself in an Arsenal shirt by his peg in the changing room at Reims’ training ground.

Balogun has enjoyed the challenge of moving to France as he likes being out of his comfort zone. He lives alone in Reims, initially staying in a hotel before moving to accommodation organised by the club.

Target: Rasmus Hojlund scored five times for Denmark during the recent international break (REUTERS)
Target: Rasmus Hojlund scored five times for Denmark during the recent international break (REUTERS)

The youngster’s understanding of French is improving and a translator is no longer always needed in team meetings with Balogun using his spare time to have French lessons. Reims manager Will Still, who was born in Belgium but has English parents, has played a key role as he can speak to Balogun in English and he has developed a knack of knowing how to get under the striker’s skin to get more from him.

Youth coaches at Arsenal noticed a hunger in him to improve and that continued as he rose through the ranks. Balogun routinely did extra finishing drills with assistant Steve Round and analysis sessions with fellow assistant Albert Stuivenberg.

Former Arsenal Under-23 coach Kevin Betsy had a big impact on Balogun, making him captain and helping him to develop his hold-up play. Betsy worked with Nketiah too, describing him as “a natural finisher” and “a fox in the box that smells chances”, but he believes Balogun offers something different.

“Flo could manufacture goals for himself,” says Betsy. “He didn’t have to rely on service. He is quite quiet and introverted. He’s not a big shouter, he’s not very in your face with anything does.

“I just felt for his development that it would be a good thing for him [to be captain] to improve his communication skills and how he leads. He has all the attributes of a central striker or inverted winger. He’s good one v one, his pace and acceleration are phenomenal. I think he can play in the top leagues in Europe.”