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Don’t let Balogun slip away, Mikel

OPINION: After the club allowed Yaya Toure and Serge Gnabry to leave, Gunners boss must hang on to promising graduate Folarin Balogun

14 January, 2021 — By Richard Osley

EVERY Arsenal fan is the biggest Arsenal fan in the world.

They’ve been to more matches than you, bought more programmes than you, spent more on travelling to far-flung away grounds and know more about the inside stories of the club than you.

They walked through the snow to find a match abandoned but it doesn’t matter because they love the club.

They called their dog Dennis, they called their cat Thierry. They have their pictures taken next to “Arenal” signs when they go on holiday to Majorca in the summer ­– and send them to the matchday programme for publication.

And they will tell you they were there – like Forrest Gump – at every landmark moment in Arsenal history, good or bad: at Anfield in 1989 but also at Old Trafford for the 8-2; they were in Paris for the Champions league final, but also at Wrexham and York City for those cup shames.

They will out-Arsenal you at every turn, tell you the real reason some players left the club: “Oh, yeah, well everybody knew he was having it off with his teammate’s missus.”

They will even tell you what Gus Caesar’s favourite pre-match meal always was: beans on toast.

And as determined players in the quest to be crowned the world’s biggest Arsenal fan of them all – the immortal – they of course know who all the best youth prospects are, having tracked their progress since they were 11.

Luckily, you don’t need to be one of these never-missed-a-match guys to realise that Folarin Balogun has been one of the more promising Arsenal graduates and he’s now asking why he can’t have a go in the first-team – he’s only a couple of months younger than Bukayo Saka, after all.

You can’t really blame him for not signing a new contract, when Joe Willock and Eddie Nketiah seem to have endless chances under Mikel Arteta, while he doesn’t even get a place on the bench in cup matches.

With 15 clubs circling for his signature in the summer and rumours that he’ll roll the dice abroad instead of hanging on for Arteta, the Arsenal manager said: “We are doing everything we can keep him here.”

Two days later, the teamsheet suggested otherwise.

You also don’t have to be Arsenal’s number one devotee to remember that Yaya Toure and, more similarly, Serge Gnabry were allowed to slip away.

If Arsenal are still waiting for Nketiah to get good in five years’ time, Balogun may well be at a rival providing another source of what-could-have-been embarrassment.

Saka and Smith Rowe have brought new energy to a team which has been flagging all year – it seems worth a crack to let Balogun have a go before he cashes his chips in.


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