How Arsenal loanee Folarin Balogun would fit with USMNT after breakout season

For 13 years, Arsenal’s Polarin Balogun has been in the public eye. The New York City-born striker’s family emigrated to England when he was two years old, eventually joining the Gunners academy at the age of 8. For over a decade, he developed while tutoring Arsenal forwards such as Robin van Persie, Olivier Giroud and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

This season was his breakthrough, after scoring 10 goals in the first half of the season, he was loaned out to the French Ligue 1 side. That’s good enough to be the club’s top scorer and opens up more discussion about where his international future could be, as Balogun is eligible to represent England, the United States and Nigeria.

And while Arsenal have yet to recall him as a replacement for the injured Gabriel Jesus, his form has opened up a potentially lucrative transfer market for teams in need of a goalkeeper.

What made Balogun so successful in France, and how does he fit into a U.S. it. National team program in desperate need of a striker (should he choose the US)? Let’s catch up.


Player profile

At the end of the 2019-20 season, the then-19-year-old Balogun had yet to log a single senior club appearance for Arsenal, although he had represented both England and the United States in their youth national teams, most notably ( respectively) at the 2018 UEFA European Under-17 Championship and the Václav Ježek Youth (U-18) Tournament.

The 2020-2021 campaign provided his career with a breakthrough of sorts: Balogun opened his Arsenal scoring account during the Europa League group stage before securing a winter loan to Middlesbrough for more regular game action. Playing under Chris Wilder at Boro, Balogun bagged three goals while adding three assists in 18 Championship matches.

Upon his return, Arsenal thought a year with Stade de Reims could accelerate his development curve in Ligue 1 as it did for William Saliba at the other end of the pitch.

As it turns out, It was a dream move For all parties. Talk to The athletic Last month, Balogun said former Arsenal teammates Alexander Lacazette and Nicolas Pépé suggested he try his hand in the French first division for more frequent involvement in a physical league.

“(Pepé) just said to stay positive, keep working hard, and then he said to think about a loan to the French league, ‘I’m sure you can do well in the league if you apply yourself’,” Balogun said in the article. December, “He challenged me to score 10 goals in the league and said, ‘If you do that, you’ve made progress.’

As it turns out, Pépé’s “challenge” was hardly an uphill battle. The striker reached his 10th goal of the Ligue 1 campaign with a brace against Rennes in Reims’ return to action after the World Cup. He did so despite managing just 19 touches, his fewest start in a league since late August. He missed the team’s ensuing match on January 2 with A reported hamstring issueWith Reims finishing 1-1 on an away day in Lille.

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So, what changed?

In all likelihood, Balogun could not be set up for success in his previous loan spell. Being asked to lead the line for a team in a promotion battle is no small assignment for a player’s first extended senior involvement. At an established Ligue 1 side, Balogun is able to express himself more.

Stat 2021-22* 2022-23**

Shots / 90 (% on target)

2.2 (54.2%)

3.11 (46.5%)

xG/90 (npxG/90)

0.32

0.64

Goals / 90

0.27

0.72

Touch in pen area / 90

3.85

4.34

Offsides / 90

0.37

0.87

Progressive Runs / 90

0.46

1.37

* With Middlesbrough (EFL Championship)
** With Reims (Ligue 1)
Data via Wyscout

While shots were hard to come by at Boro, he was consistent in placing them on frame. He also finished his chances close to his expected rate, albeit with a rather poor service. It all pales in comparison to what he managed in the first half of the Ligue 1 campaign. Even removing his 3-for-3 record from the penalty spot, Balogun managed 0.48 non-penalty expected goals per 90 when factoring in extra time.

He’s also been given more permission to play a more progressive role, logging one more touch in the box per two games, getting caught off-guard at a similar clip – showing greater permission to break behind the line, which isn’t a bad thing – and adding nearly A full yet progressive run per game. These aren’t just significant improvements on his Championship output either. This is the type of profile that turns a striker from a loan army mainstay into a coveted young striker.

Here are Balogun’s percentile figures in the following table compared to positional peers in men’s “Big 5” leagues, Champions League and Europa League over the past 365 days. Balogun has played 1160 qualified minutes in that time.

Stat # per 90 minutes percentile

Non-punishment goals

0.54

86

npxG

0.52

87

Full rating

3.1

78

npxG + expected assists

0.63

78

Shot-creating actions

2.25

39

Progressive passes

1.63

70

Progressive passes received

8.53

95

Dribbles completed

1.09

71

Data via fbref dot com

If there is an area for improvement, it would be in his aerial game. Listed at 5-foot-10 (1.55 meters), Balogun is not adept at getting on the end of headers with rims, whether the balls float in from set pieces or the flow of play. Smarterscout data rates players from zero to 99 depending on how often they perform a certain action. It also tells us how effective they are at it compared to others in their position.

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Nevertheless, he was good when taking opponents with the ball at his feet, while also being functional in Reims’ front-line press. Although we like to see an all-rounder top, the number of true goal forwards is dwindling with each passing year.

Balogun seems to be projected towards a more modern archetype – even when the difference in quality between Ligue 1 and the Premier League, as the data from Smarterscout reflects on. Its pizza chart.


International future

Having represented England and the US in youth ranks and holding Nigerian eligibility, Balogun said Ligue 1 website In November, he will soon make a decision about who he will represent. While recent years have seen high-pressure decisions made by the likes of Sergiño Dest, Yunus Musah, Gaga Slonina and Malik Tillman among others, Balogun is undaunted by the speculation.

“I don’t have a problem with it,” Balogun said. “It is the role of the media to ask these kinds of questions and I accept it. I am going to make a decision soon and the decision will not depend on what the media or people think but on what is better for me. We will Talk about it quietly with my family.”

In the same interview, he spoke favorably of his U.S.

“Yes, when I was 17, the U. “I played for England in the Euro U-17 a few months before, but after talking with my family I decided to go. And we won the tournament! It was a good experience because I got to see a different way of playing and other methods. I’m still in touch with some of the people I met there.”

While his family discusses his options in private, the rest of us in the public arena can bear the brunt of analyzing his options. England’s striker stable ahead of the 2026 World Cup is well headlined, as Harry Kane will be 32 and Marcus Rashford just 28. There is not a clear next-in-line among the younger options beyond Balogun (who is currently 21), The likes of Aston Villa’s Cameron Archer, Leeds’ Joe Gelhardt and Tottenham’s Dain Scarlett have yet to establish themselves at club level.

Nigeria probably has the deepest pool of the three nations, with Napoli’s Victor Osimhen leading a group that includes Ademola Lookman, Samuel Chukwueze, Kelechi Iheanacho and Terem Moffi, who also has 10 goals in the ongoing Ligue 1 season with Lorient.

But for the U.S., no position has been a weaker spot in the past five years than striker. Throughout the Gregg Berhalter era, the team has opted to play its strikers in a more withdrawn role, asking them to play in build-up phases and create chances for their wingers and themselves.

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While Jesús Ferreira was top option over the summer in a deep-lying role, he struggled in his only World Cup involvement, a start against the Netherlands in the round of 16. Josh Sargent looked much better alongside Christian Pulisic and Tim Weah but not Otherwise to factor for scoring chances of his own before missing the knockout defeat due to injury. Haji Wright was more of a goal option and a pure scorer, but struggled to impress in the tournament after a fine debut against Wales.

All three presented a different approach to the position; All three struggled. In Balogun, the program would find its white whale: someone who could be a well-rounded striker and an upgrade over the current options.

Balogun v. U.S. it. 2022 World Cup Striker, 2022-23*

Balogun v. U.S. it. s 2022 World Cup strike

Balogun Ferreira Sargent Right

Shots / 90 (% on target)

3.11 (46.5%)

2.58 (49.4%)

2.08 (56.3%)

2.37 (35.9%)

xG/90

0.64

0.4

0.31

0.42

Touch in pen area / 90

4.34

3.48

4.15

3.65

Forward Passes / 90 (% accurate)

3.4 (57.4%)

6.27 (53.7%)

3.37 (61.5%)

1.76 (69%)

Dribbles / 90 (% success)

2.96 (53.7%)

1.48 (49%)

3.16 (52.1%)

4.56 (52%)

Air Duels (% won)

2.53 (20%)

1.04 (19.4%)

5.58 (38.8%)

5.6 (41.3%)

Recovery in AP ½

2.46

2.87

4.11

1.89

Data via Wyscout
* All data for 2022-2023 league action, except for Ferreira, which uses the full 2022 MLS season

Not only did Balogun fire off more shots per 90, but he did so at a decent rate of putting shots on frame. Even his non-penalty xG of 0.52 would be tops in this class, to say nothing of his 0.64 clip factor for three converted penalty kicks.

The rest of the data helps show how he played for Reims, even if you don’t watch Ligue 1. The forward passing figures help illustrate the difference between Ferreira – a deep-lying forward if ever there was one – and Wright, more From a classic line-leading goal forward. On this spectrum, Balogun is almost identical to Sargent, as is reinforced by the number of dribbles he attempts. Unlike the Norwich forward, however, Balogun has yet to showcase much ability in the air while focusing less in frontline defence.

Nevertheless, based on numbers alone, Balogun would represent a better goalscoring threat than US’s current stable. The wing options.

Although January may not see Balogun change clubs, his loan spell in France has really taken his game to another level. Does he join Musah and Tillman in leading the US?

As he reads, it’s clear he’s finally got his senior career on track – whether he’s in Mikel Arteta’s plans for Arsenal going forward or not.

(Photo: Gareth Copley/Getty Images)



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