Thursday, July 18, 2024

Go with the Flo …

Morning, well that’s it for internationals, and not a moment too soon if you ask me. Bring on the real football madness.

Yesterday, Granit Xhaka played 90 minutes for Switzerland as they beat the Czech Republic 2-1; while Martin Odegaard also played the full game for Norway, beaten 2-0 by Serbia. Hopefully that means the captain isn’t feeling the effects of the injury which kept him out of the win over Brentford, and he’ll be 100% for the derby on Saturday.

It’s now about assessing the players when they come back, with some question marks over one or two. I’ve already written this week about Thomas Partey and Takehiro Tomiyasu, so let’s see what kind of updates we get on them as the week progresses. Fingers crossed on both counts, because all the focus now is on the weekend, and then the punishing schedule which follows.

Elsewhere, Flo Balogun scored for England U21s who beat Germany 3-1 – watch the video here. Those are some lovely quick feet to take a touch, then spin his body to get the shot away with his weak foot. Clearly the loan spell in France is working well for him, with 5 goals and 2 assists in 8 games for Reims so far. And let’s not overlook the fact this is a team currently sitting 17th in the table – so it’s not as if he’s hoovering up a multitude of chances in a side which is steamrollering the opposition.

He spoke last week about the decision to send him out on loan this season, and said:

Before I moved, Mikel (Arteta) just wanted me to develop as a man. It was kind of like an open answer and it was for me to interpret what he meant by ‘develop as a man’.

By moving abroad, I’m starting to learn what he meant by that. It doesn’t just mean on the pitch but also off the pitch. I think by the time I go back I’ll be in a better place to compete than I was before I left.

It is an interesting one, because you could probably have made a pretty decent case for him to stay around. In a season where the schedule is packed and condensed, the more depth you have the better, and with only Gabriel Jesus and Eddie Nketiah as recognised centre-forwards, having a third one around would be no bad thing. Especially when you remember that Eddie began last season as third choice, and – for reasons we don’t need to go over again – ended up as the starter for the last 10 games or so. I don’t think those same scenarios would have played out again to Balogun’s benefit, but as a kind of insurance policy, it would have been understandable if Arsenal had kept him around.

But ultimately the best thing for the player, and Arsenal in the longer term, was for him to go and play. For all the talent and potential, which had people worried he might leave without signing a new contract, he departed this summer at 21 years of age with just 31 senior appearances under his belt for a total of 1278 minutes, many of them short cameos as a sub. That’s just a little bit over 14 full 90s. In comparison, Bukayo Saka, a couple of months younger, has played 139 times for Arsenal, with 20 full internationals for England under his belt too.

How is any player supposed to develop properly without regular football? It just doesn’t happen, so the best decision for Balogun this season was to ensure he played plenty of football, even if the benefit to us – whether it’s on the pitch or financial in the transfer market – wouldn’t be seen until a later date.

Even William Saliba touched on this recently, telling Canal+:

From a personal point of view, it was better for me to go on loan to play, make mistakes, learn. I came back stronger and with new ambitions. These experiences proved to me that football is complicated, but that you should never give up and believe in yourself.

So far that seems to be working out well. I’d be very surprised if Balogun came back and had the same kind of impact as Saliba next season, but if he returns a better player for all his on-pitch experience, and more mature as a person after a different life experience which has taken him out of his ‘comfort zone’, then hopefully we’ll that reflected on what he does on the pitch all the same.

Right. That’s your lot for this morning. Have a good one.

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