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Folarin Balogun made his debut for the Arsenal first team on Thursday against Dundalk, amid speculation around his future.
Throughout the summer transfer window, various sources close to Folarin Balogun’s camp linked him with a move away from Arsenal. There were reports of plenty of clubs after his signature, most notably Sheffield United – who signed Rhian Brewster instead.
After the window closed without Balogun completing a move away, the suggestion was that he’d leave Arsenal on a free transfer when his contract ends next summer. But there are signs that he’s starting to reconcile with the Arsenal management team.
For a start, the striker rejoined regular first-team training. During the breakdown in contract talks, he was exclusively training with the u23s – even when spaces opened up with the senior side.
Then, he made his debut against Dundalk. It was the first time he’d even featured in a matchday squad for over a year, but he went one further to get some minutes on the pitch.
Afterwards, Mikel Arteta spoke about the situation, suggesting the contract difficulties were a hangover from the previous regime.
“He’s a player that I really like,” Arteta said. “Obviously, I’ve got this situation and I believe it’s later than what I would like because I wasn’t here when everything started to develop but yes, he’s a player that I would like to give chances to.
“That’s why he was in the squad today and I showed him that yes, we count on him and we believe in him. If he wants, he’s going to have a future in the club.”
Balogun grateful to Arteta for the chance
The player of the moment spoke to Arsenal Player after the game, thanking Arteta for the opportunity, and admitting it was a great feeling to make his debut.
“This is a moment I have been waiting for for a little while so to finally get it feels great,” Balogun said. “I can only thank Mikel and the staff for giving me this opportunity and I look forward to doing this more often.
“[There were] loads of emotions, really. I knew that this is the moment I’ve been waiting for, but at the same time, I knew there was a job that needed to be done. I just tried to come on, make runs, be a nuisance, and help the team really.”
Willock’s advice to Balogun
One thing you could sense in the final 10 minutes was that the likes of Reiss Nelson and Joe Willock were keen to make Balogun a chance.
Whilst some of their teammates were happy to kill the game and keep the clean sheet, the academy boys are close with Balogun and have been in his situation before. They know exactly how he’s feeling.
Willock revealed the advice he gave to the young striker after the game.
“I thought he did well,” Willock said. “It’s never easy coming on for such a big team and making your debut.
“He’s scoring a lot of goals in the under-23s and that’s all he can do. I’m happy for him and I congratulated him because I was once in that position. I told him to kick on, keep working hard, and that he’d get more opportunities at this club.”