Pre-season is always a key time for any player, but for Folarin Balogun the next few weeks have the potential to be potentially seismic.
Arsenal’s young striker is now back with the north London club following his impressive loan spell with Reims in France last season and has travelled to Germany with Mikel Arteta’s squad for their training camp ahead of Thursday’s game with Nurnberg.
Balogun will then jet out with Arsenal to America for their pre-season tour where he will be the centre of attention following his high profile decision to switch his international allegiance from England to the United States.
All eyes will be on the 22-year-old, whose future remains up in the air ahead of the start of the new Premier League season.
Balogun now has just two years left on his contract at Arsenal and has made it clear he has no intention of going out on loan again.
“I’m not sure what’s going to happen,” Balogun said in June after scoring this first goal for the United States in a win against Canada. “I’m just committed to now; I try to stay present.
“What I can say is that I definitely won’t go on loan.”
That stance puts Arsenal in a difficult position. Ideally, they would not want to sell a young striker who is clearly as talented as Balogun.
But with his contract ticking down and the forward showing no indication that he wants to open discussions about an extension, that is something they have to consider.
Balogun is in a position of real strength following his superb season with Reims in Ligue 1.
Arsenal’s academy product scored 22 goals in all competitions in France, sending his reputation through the roof.
And that has allowed him to go into the transfer window holding all the cards when it comes to taking his next step.
He wants guaranteed playing time and with Gabriel Jesus ahead of him at Arsenal, it feels unlikely that he will be able to get the minutes that he craves with the Gunners this coming season.
“I’m not sure what’s going to happen. What I can say is that I definitely won’t go on loan.”Folarin Balogun in June, 2023
And that’s why Arsenal could reluctantly be forced to cash in on the talented frontman this summer.
Balogun is coming off the back of a superb individual campaign. He still has two years left of his deal and he has just agreed to be the poster boy for the United States ahead of their home World Cup in 2026.
So his value, both in footballing terms and commercially is sky high.
But, should Arsenal keep hold of him this summer without him signing a new deal, he will have just a year remaining on his contract at the end of the 2023/24 campaign and his value would have plummeted.
Balogun knows how strong a position he is in and that’s why the next few weeks are so crucial. If he can produce some impressive performances during Arsenal’s pre-season campaign, even more opportunities will present themselves.
Clubs such as AC Milan and RB Leipzig, who are both interested in the forward, could firm up their interest. Or Arsenal could even put a big new contract offer on the table to try and get him to stay.
As it stands, however, the former option looks more likely.
With Jurrien Timber and Declan Rice about to sign, Arsenal are set to take their summer spending past the £200m mark following the earlier addition of Kai Havertz.
That outlay needs to be offset by some significant sales and Balogun – who the club value at around £50m – would be exactly that.
Many fans are calling for Balogun to move ahead of Eddie Nketiah in the pecking order, but it’s not quite as simple as that.
Nketiah has a long-term contract that was only signed last year, so Arsenal are not at risk of losing him on the cheap.
He has also shown he can make an impact at Premier League level, something Balogun has not yet been able to do. And, perhaps more importantly, he appears to be more prepared to bide his time for minutes than his fellow academy graduate.
Put those factors together and you can see why it’s far more likely that of the two young strikers, it will be Balogun who leaves this summer.