90+6 minutes in the match between Reims and PSG in the 20th round of Ligue 1, after midfielder Kamory Doumbia’s gap, Folarin Balogun, with his youth, used his speed to overcome the pair of central defenders Marquinhos and Sergio Ramos and the goalkeeper. Gianluigi Donnarumma before putting the ball into an empty net. Immediately, the Arsenal player went to the corner flagpole and recreated the famous celebration of the legendary Thierry Henry.
|Balogun cosplays Henry’s classic celebration.|
“Before the game I shook hands and said hello to Henry. This celebration is my respect for him,” Balogun said after the match. The goal of the striker with the number 29 helped Reims bring back 1 point against the defending champion, thereby extending the unbeaten streak under coach Will Still to 12. In the next round against Lorient, Balogun continued to play. showing incredible form when scoring a hat-trick against the team in the West of France. Although he did not shoot in the recent match against Auxerre, the 21-year-old striker still leads the list of Ligue 1’s top scorers with 14 goals and ranks above Mbappe, Neymar and Alexandre Lacazette. In the top 5 European leagues, only Erling Haaland, Harry Kane and Victor Osimhen have more goals than Balogun with 25, 17 and 16 respectively.
For neutral fans, perhaps the current season is the first time they know about the fairy Folarin Balogun when he is storming in France. However, for “Gunners” fans, this is not the first time they have witnessed the team’s young talent step onto the big stage. Remember in the opening match against Brentford last season, Balogun was assigned the starting stone by coach Mikel Arteta from the beginning when the Lacazette duo and Aubameyang were infected with COVID-19.
However, the debut of the young Arsenal talent did not go smoothly when he was substituted in the 59th minute without leaving any mark. In the end, “Gunners” lost 0-2 to Brentford. Now, times have reversed. In the current season, Balogun has scored more goals than Lacazette and Aubameyang combined. This is really a huge development for the number 29, especially when he only had 3 goals when he was on loan at Middlesbrough last season. However, for Arteta, these are the necessary challenges for a young player to overcome himself and reach the top, similar to the cases of Emile Smith Rowe, William Saliba or especially Bukayo Saka – who was under a lot of pressure after the penalty shootout defeat in the Euro 2020 final.
|Balogun is on the way to developing as the current talent in Arsenal’s first team.|
“You can see how he is improving,” Arteta said last March when Balogun was still in the Championship. “Balogun’s performances allow us to gauge his pace of development and map out future plans for him. We want Balogun to be part of the club’s future project. Of course, in the immediate future, he needs to experience the good and the bad moments in football, as well as learn how to adapt in the dressing room and improve his play to reach the top level.”
The next destination in Balogun’s development journey this season is Reims, a place completely unknown to the teenager who has spent his life living in north London. The 21-year-old’s first cultural struggles were summed up in a short clip from Amazon Prime, when coach Will Still joked that Balogun’s ability to speak French was a disaster. Now, these two individuals are now playing a key role in the impressive series of matches of the Northern French team.
“I spent all my time in London, so I knew that transitioning to a different football background would be very challenging,” Balogun told Prime Video earlier in the season. “I don’t know any French and I’m trying to improve day by day. For me, the most important thing is to step out of my comfort zone and challenge myself. That is why I am here in Reims and I hope this decision will bring many fruits in the end for me.”
Sharing the same opinion, legend Thierry Henry – who once coached Balogun in Arsenal’s youth team said: “In general, Londoners find it difficult to adapt to leaving this city. I am glad that Balogun decided to go to France to challenge himself because not many young English players dare to go abroad to play football. Most of them will choose to play on loan at another club in the Premier League or the First Division. Balogun is a typical English striker, but he needs to improve his finishing.”
|Balogun’s stats as of now while playing for Reims.|
With brilliant form, now, the question being asked by Arsenal fans is whether Balogun can squeeze into the club’s forward line next season or not. Looking at the overall 14 goals that Reims’ 29 has, we can see that the young “Gunners” striker has a wide range of goalscoring abilities and possesses an outstanding spatial sense – something that Mikel Arteta looking for a striker during the transfer window last month.