Folarin Balogun stepped up to the u23s and scored on Monday, emphasising that he should be getting more opportunities at the top academy level.
The Arsenal u23s struggled in the first half against Swansea City on Monday. Without the likes of Eddie Nketiah, Joe Willock and Konstantinos Mavropanos they had trouble at both ends of the pitch, and they went in at the break 2-0 down. However, everything changed when Balogun came on as a half-time substitution.
Though the team had struggled to get on the ball in the final third for the opening 45 minutes, Balogun’s pace and strength opened up opportunities for himself and his teammates. Then he took matters into his own hands with a nice solo run and finish to make it 2-1.
Another substitute, Nathan Tormey, added a second goal before Balogun was denied a stonewall penalty in the dying minutes. You can’t always rely on refereeing decisions, but nine times out of 10 the penalty is given for an incident like that and Arsenal win the match. The striker has already won four penalties this season.
In his 22 appearances this campaign, Balogun has scored 20 goals, broken down as follows:
- Premier League 2 (u23s): 3 substitute appearances, 1 goal
- EFL Trophy (u21s): 1 substitute appearance, 0 goals
- U18 Premier League (u18s): 13 starts, 16 goals, 2 assists
- FA Youth Cup (u18s): 3 starts, 2 goals, 2 assists
- U18 PL Cup (u18s): 2 starts, 1 goal
Bear in mind those sub appearances for the u21s and u23s only come to 54 minutes in total, so even scoring one goal is impressive. That raises the question Freddie Ljungberg should be asking himself now: Should Balogun be playing for the u23s more regularly?
Tyreece John-Jules started the match on Monday but he struggled to have the same impact Balogun had. Admittedly it was his first start for the u23s since his hamstring injury, so we shouldn’t be too harsh on the 18-year-old.
Then there’s Eddie Nketiah, who still starts a lot of matches for the u23s. That’s the main thing that needs to change next season. Whether he’s playing regular first-team football for Arsenal or for a loan club, Nketiah can’t be in the academy taking up game time for another year. He’s got all the development he can from youth football already.
It’s time to give Balogun more chances to step up. If he’s anything like as good for the u23s as the u18s, he’ll be pushing for first-team chances soon enough. Protecting the existing hierarchy of strikers should come second to giving the very top academy talents opportunities to grow. Right now, Balogun looks like one of those.