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Folarin Balogun’s comments amid a sensational season on loan at Stade Reims speak volumes about Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta’s belief in him. Arteta sent Balogun to France with an important message and is set to reap the rewards with another addition to his young, prospering squad.
The 21-year-old played a bit-part role in pre-season after Eddie Nketiah’s contract U-turn and Gabriel Jesus’ £45million arrival from Manchester City.
He joined Reims on a season-long loan later in the summer, but not many could’ve predicted the trajectory of his development across the Channel.
Balogun has scored 14 goals in 20 Ligue 1 games this season, currently standing as the competition’s top scorer ahead of Kylian Mbappe, Neymar and former Gunner Alexandre Lacazette, among others.
Arteta will be watching his exploits with intrigue ahead of adding him back into his exciting ranks at the end of the campaign.
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Back in September, the New York-born striker revealed what the Spaniard told him when he completed his latest temporary move away from Arsenal.
He said: “Before I moved, Mikel said he wanted me to develop as a man. It was kind of like an open answer for me to interpret what he meant by ‘develop as a man’.
“But by moving abroad, I’m starting to learn what he meant. It doesn’t just mean on the pitch but also off the pitch. I think by the time I go back, I’ll be in a better place to compete than I was before I left.”
“I realised there were certain things I would struggle with, but I think that’s a good thing. It helps you to manage stuff you’re uncomfortable with, which is important.
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“It is still early, but definitely, if I am around those sorts of names [Mbappe and Neymar in the Ligue 1 goalscorer standings] at the end of the season, I would be really happy with myself.”
Arteta’s parting message indicated that he believed in Balogun to meet his potential in France, highlighting his strengths as a coach that have seen Arsenal emerge as title contenders this season.
He will also understand the importance of attitude and application off the pitch, having been in a rush to push players out of the club at the first sign of disruption in recent years, with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang being the most high-profile.
Arsenal are expected to prioritise strengthening the midfield this summer, with both Declan Rice and Moises Caicedo eyed. So a ready-made striker returning from loan will be music to Arteta’s ears.
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