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Nketiah or Balogun? Arsenal facing difficult transfer decision as January window looms

4:00 PM MYT 17/11/2021
Eddie Nketiah Folarin Balogun
The Gunners have two young strikers who are open to a move away this winter, but who - if any - should be allowed to leave?

Eddie Nketiah and Folarin Balogun share many things.

Both are talented young strikers who have come through the ranks at Arsenal having found the net prolifically at youth level.

They both also scored on their second senior appearance for the Gunners, with Nketiah netting twice against Norwich in the Carabao Cup and Balogun opening his first-team account against Molde in the Europa League.

The two forwards have even shared the same agent.

But now, with January fast approaching, the pair are starting to head in different directions, with one expected to leave when the winter transfer window opens. The question is, who?

On one hand, Arsenal have a player in Nketiah who is out of contract in the summer and wants to leave the club, while on the other you have an immensely talented striker in Balogun, who has just signed a new long-term deal.

So on paper it should be a relatively easy decision. But in reality, that is not the case.

Arsenal have a lot to weigh up in the weeks leading up to the January window when it comes to the striker department, especially with captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang due to travel to the Africa Cup of Nations with Gabon.

Nketiah has shown he can step up at senior level this season, scoring on each of his two appearances in the Carabao Cup.

So with Aubameyang expected to miss up to three weeks while he is away on international duty, Nketiah could prove very important for Mikel Arteta during a key part of the season.

“I have no doubts about what Eddie can offer," the Arsenal boss said, when discussing Nketiah following the League Cup win over Leeds United in October. "Whatever you throw at him, he wants more, and demands more of himself.

“There's a lot of players who play in that (striker) position, and he has a personal situation [with his contract running down]. But I try to leave that aside and try to [reward him] because he deserves it."

Nketiah could have left Arsenal last summer, with the Gunners open to offloading the young forward. They had been in talks over extending his contract, but when they broke down, Arsenal made it known that the England Under-21 international was for sale.

Several clubs were interested, and Arsenal even agreed a deal with Crystal Palace, but sources have told GOAL that the move broke down when Nketiah failed to agree personal terms with the Eagles.

So he remained in north London, but despite scoring in both his appearances this season, he has yet to play a single minute in the Premier League.

Nketiah will turn 23 in May and understandably wants to be playing regular first-team football. He would be open to a move in January, with Palace still maintaining an interest in the forward, who is also believed to have options abroad.

Talks are set to be held in the coming weeks to try and decide his future, but it is unclear at this stage whether Arsenal will allow him to go.

With his contract up in June, any transfer fee would be minimal, and Arsenal have to decide whether his departure could have a significant impact on the development of Balogun.

The 20-year-old is himself attracting interest from several clubs, and a January loan move is a very real possibility.

After scoring for England U21s against Czech Republic last week, Balogun admitted that he felt he was ready to make the step up to senior football.

"I have played youth football for a little while,” he said. “I have obviously scored a lot of goals at that level and improved drastically from when I started.

"I do feel like I am ready for a new challenge, but I am not sure what that might be. It might be a loan or if I am needed at Arsenal then I am here and the gaffer knows that.

"I know the potential I could have. The performances I am putting in are all I can do at the moment. I know that I am going in the right direction."

Arsenal are well aware of how important this stage of Balogun’s career is and have been managing his development carefully.

Having promoted the forward to the first-team squad last summer, Arteta opted to keep him at the club, with the Spaniard believing he would benefit more from working with the senior side on a regular basis than he would by spending some time out on loan.

“With Flo we have a really clear project,” Arteta explained. “The steps that he’s making, they are the right steps.

"Don’t forget he is really young, he hasn’t played almost any professional football, and you need to go through every phase – and don’t try to jump phases when you are not ready to do so.

“I’m really happy with him, he’s making the right progress, and in December we will see where we are and what's best for him.”

Decision time is now approaching when it comes to where Balogun should spend the second half of the season.

Should Arsenal look to cash in on Nketiah before his contract runs out, then Balogun would likely have to stay put in case anything happened to the likes of Aubameyang, Alexandre Lacazette and Gabriel Martinelli.

But that is a decision that would inevitably lead to Balogun having to spend the whole season playing for the U23s - a level that he has widely viewed to have outgrown.

So that is what Arteta, technical director Edu and loans manager Ben Knapper will focus on during talks over the coming weeks.

Arteta has a good relationship with both Nketiah and Balogun, and has been impressed with the way the former has handled himself this season despite his lack of game time.

Ideally, he would be happy to grant Nketiah’s wishes in January and find him a new club, but the impact his exit could have on Balogun’s immediate future will play a key part in the ongoing discussions.

It is an intriguing situation involving two talented young Arsenal strikers. 

Who goes, has yet to be decided.