USMNT prospect Folarin Balogun MUST leave Arsenal permanently this summer if he is to fulfill his potential

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Folarin Balogun Reims 2022-23
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The Gunners forward has seriously impressed on loan at Reims this season, and clubs are beginning to circle in a bid to sign him permanently

Folarin Balogun's summer move to Reims did not cause many ripples in the footballing world. The previous season, the New York-born frontman had underwhelmed while on loan at Middlesbrough, failing to translate his impressive Under-23 goalscoring form to the senior stage.

Thus, there was little indication that Balogun's Reims switch would propel him into mainstream footballing consciousness.

Despite this ambivalence, the 21 year old has since registered 18 goals in just 29 Ligue 1 appearances this season - more than Wissam Ben Yedder, Neymar and Lionel Messi. He even has a chance of catching Kylian Mbappe, who's currently netted one more than him, before the season's out.

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His form has also sparked an international tug of war, with the United States desperate for him to commit his future to the men's national team team over England - who he has represented at youth level - and Nigeria.

Balogun's time at Reims has been the perfect example of a loan move working exactly as intended. After gaining experience and proving he belongs at the top level, Arsenal will be getting back a important rotational piece, or an asset they can flip for considerably more than they were expecting this summer.

The question is, what should Balogun's next step be?

  1. A breakout season!
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    A breakout season!

    Right from the start of his loan spell it was abundantly clear that Reims had picked up a special talent.

    Balogun made an electric start to the season, netting five goals in his first six Ligue 1 games, and he has managed to maintain this consistency as the campaign has progressed, never going longer than three league matches without finding the back of the net.

    The variety of his finishes is noteworthy, too. Of his 18 Ligue 1 goals, five have been scored with his left foot, six with his right, five from the penalty spot, as well as two headers.

    This correctly paints the picture of Balogun being an elite, well-rounded goalscorer. He is constantly looking to stretch defences by darting in behind, and also favours moving into the channels before cutting in and running at the opposition.

    There is little reason why he cannot translate this skillset to the Premier League, or any other league in Europe for that matter.

  2. Interest is swirling
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    Interest is swirling

    As much as they would love to keep him, Balogun's chances of remaining under Will Still's tutelage in Reims seem slim.

    In recent months, as it became clearer that his electric start to the season was not just a flash in the pan, a host of top European sides have been linked with the Arsenal loanee. Two clubs have been named most prominently in reports so far: RB Leipzig and AC Milan.

    The former are preparing themselves for the departure of star forward Christopher Nkunku to Chelsea in the summer, and see Balogun as the ideal man to replace him.

    Milan, meanwhile, are on the lookout for Olivier Giroud's long-term successor, while Zlatan Ibrahimovic's increasingly-likely exit has only increased their need for reinforcements up front.

    More clubs will surely enter the running to sign Balogun in the summer too, with Arsenal set to demand £35 million ($44m/€40m) for his services.

  3. Is he going to play at Arsenal?

    Is he going to play at Arsenal?

    Despite that growing interest, there is another option - try and force his way into the Arsenal team.

    There was a time this season when Mikel Arteta could have really done with another striker, particularly one with a scoring record as impressive as Balogun's. After Gabriel Jesus picked up an injury during the World Cup - and before Leandro Trossard's arrival - the Gunners were left with Eddie Nketiah shouldering all of the centre-forward burden.

    Although the academy graduate fared well in the circumstances, the episode seemed to suggest that there was a route to the first team for Balogun should he return to north London.

    Things have changed considerably since then, though. The emergence of the aforementioned Trossard, as well as Jesus' return, has left Arteta fairly well stocked in the centre-forward position. Both of these players have significantly different profiles to Balogun, too.

    While Balogun is an out-an-out goalscorer - much like Nketiah, Arteta's other option - Jesus and Trossard are capable of offering more in terms of link-up play and creativity. The way Arteta deploys his central 'striker' is key to getting the best out of free-scoring wingers Bukayo Saka and Gabriel Martinelli, and it is difficult to imagine him tweaking his thinking next season in order to maximise Balogun's influence.

  4. It might be time to move on

    It might be time to move on

    With that in mind, it is likely best for all parties if Balogun moved on in the summer.

    He has earned the right to start every week for a top continental team, and scratching around for minutes back at the Emirates Stadium would hamper his development severely.

    Indeed, it would seem that the player is edging towards that decision too, with recent reports suggesting that he does not want to discuss extending his contract - which is currently set to expire in 2025 - while he is also said to be against another loan move.

    It could even be argued that Balogun's departure makes sense from Arsenal's perspective, too. Even if they do not lift the Premier League title in May, they will have Champions League football to contend with next season. And although Arteta has squeezed every ounce of ability out of his current squad, it is clear that summer reinforcements will be required if they are to keep pace with Manchester City next term.

    The £35m they can raise by selling Balogun - they might even get more if Premier League clubs fancy getting involved in the bidding war - would go a long way to funding the additions they need to take themselves to the next level. Someone like Declan Rice, for example.

  5. So, where should he go?
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    So, where should he go?

    Balogun will have no shortage of offers this summer, that much is abundantly clear. It is not just Leipzig and Milan who are said to be interested, as the likes of Inter, Marseille and Monaco have also been tipped to make formal approaches.

    There's also that aforementioned Premier League factor, though no English clubs have been formally linked thus far.

    Key to his decision will be guaranteed playing time. Leipzig could provide that, as they seek to start their post-Nkunku era with a statement signing. Balogun's mobility and desire to get in behind makes him well-suited to life in the Bundesliga too, though the 4-2-2-2 system used at the Red Bull Arena could take some adjusting to.

    Milan is another attractive option. The Rossoneri haven't had a centre-forward in Balogun's mould for some time, and Divock Origi's struggles mean he has a clear run to be a starter.

    He will surely be tempted to stay in France though, after tearing Ligue 1 to shreds this season. His two suitors from that part of the world who look poised to secure Champions League football for the 2023-24 campaign, but Marseille seem more suitable. Alexis Sanchez is not getting any younger and no other member of Igor Tudor's squad has got close to netting double-figure goals this term.

    Could Paris Saint-Germain even make him a target? Two of their big three are potentially leaving and a player of a younger profile like Balogun could be perfect for their new direction heading into the second half of the 2020s.

    Regardless, the time has come for Balogun to cut ties with Arsenal - it is in everyone's best interests.