Thursday, February 29, 2024

Go with the Flo

Hello, happy Monday to you all. The last round of internationals take place today and tomorrow, and there’ll be eyes on the England team selection to see if there’s any Arsenal representation against San Marino tonight. Bukayo Saka, Emile Smith Rowe and Aaron Ramsdale could start, and if they do I hope they play well and return unscathed. I don’t really appreciate any scathing of our players whatsoever when playing for their countries.

England U21s are in action tomorrow, and young striker Flo Balogun was already on the scoresheet during this break, grabbing a goal in a win over the Czech Republic. What happens in January with him is going to be interesting, because it’s clear he needs regular first team football to continue his development. U21 boss Lee Carsley said last week:

Watching him in the Under 23s for Arsenal, it’s probably a little bit too easy for him and he’s passed that level. I imagine he wants to play for Arsenal and pushing for a position but it’s such a big club with a lot of competition.

They’ll have a career path for him and a way to break through because he’s got all the attributes. He’s level-headed, wants to work hard, asks really good questions.

And after the game in which he scored, Balogun himself made it clear he’s ready to take the next step:

“I feel like I am ready for a new challenge. I feel like I have played youth football for a while. I have scored goals at that level and improved at that level drastically compared to now. At the same time I am not sure what that challenge might be.

“It might be a loan, or if I am needed at Arsenal I am here and the gaffer knows that as well. I feel like I am definitely open to a new challenge, wherever it is I will be ready.

“As a striker and as a young player you need minutes. It is the best way to learn and get consistency.”

A loan move is an obvious next step, even if you might make a case that there could be first team minutes for him at Arsenal when Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Nicolas Pepe leave for the AFCON in late December/early January. However, he’d be much better served with four of five months of regular football than some scant minutes for us – although I suppose we could hang onto him and loan him towards the end of the month.

I know we’ve been impressed with the way the current set-up have refreshed and rejuvenated this squad via the transfer market, but we also need to see how they manage the existing talent we have at the club. When you see Saka and Smith Rowe become so important, it’s encouraging, and it must be encouraging for other young players too. It now feels like Arsenal is a club which will absolutely find a way to bring burgeoning talent into the first team. Look at our average age etc.

So, what they do with Balogun will be fascinating. Perhaps a Premier League club that needs goals to try and survive (a Norwich, for example, but Newcastle can go stick it up their bum), or a Championship club that wants to add to its firepower to try and gain promotion. I don’t think it’s hugely important which one it is, it might even be a club abroad. The main thing is that he gets minutes and he starts to play regularly against grown men. We saw him start the opening game of the season against Brentford, and I think he was unlucky not to have won a penalty, but in general, you could see the experienced players bash him around and he had no answer to it. Which is understandable because he’s played most of his football against teenagers and other young men who don’t have the physical power seasoned professionals do.

He also spoke about signing a new deal when many thought he was going to leave on a free, saying:

“We did speak prior to me signing my contract and he said I should trust in him and that he has a plan for me. That was a big reason I stayed and decided to re-sign. I wouldn’t say I know his plan, per se, but there is a plan and I have spoken about it with various people at Arsenal.

“I have complete faith in the gaffer and yeah, I feel like whatever the plan is I will give 100 per cent and it will work out as it has done the rest of my career.”

In the not too distant future, the forward line at Arsenal will be quite different. Lacazette is likely to leave at the end of the season, and Aubameyang is heading into the final year of his contract after this season. He’ll be almost 34 when it finishes, so there’s room for the likes of Balogun and Gabriel Martinelli to position themselves as potential replacements. I’m curious to see what happens with Balogun in January, there’s a real talent there, but then again we’ve had many promising young strikers down the years at Arsenal, and few have ever made the jump from Academy to first team regular. Let’s hope he can be the one.

Right, let’s leave it there for now. James and I will be recording the Arsecast Extra for you later this morning. Keep an eye out for the call for questions on Twitter @gunnerblog and @arseblog on Twitter with the hashtag #arsecastextra – or if you’re on Arseblog Member on Patreon, leave your question in the #arsecast-extra-questions channel on our Discord server.

Podcast should be out at lunchtime or thereabouts, so until then, take it easy.

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