The first piece of Arsenal’s upcoming transfer window puzzle has been put in place.
After months of negotiating, stalling, convincing, and despite seemingly having one boot out the door, highly rated academy striker Folarin Balogun finally renewed his vows at Arsenal.
It’s great news for Mikel Arteta and co but it further complicates the decisions to be made about their more senior strikers this summer.
The Gunners have a dilemma on their hands.
Too many pieces of the puzzle
Both Alexandre Lacazette and Eddie Nketiah have one year left on their contracts. The former is the Gunners’ top goal scorer while the latter, though a promising talent, has hardly had a go since Christmas.
In addition to Balogun, Arsenal’s other options up top, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Gabriel Martinelli, have also recently signed new contracts.
There are too many pieces of the puzzle and Lacazette and Nketiah are the ones whose futures are now under speculation.
It’s decision time for Edu and Arteta. And what Arsenal’s plan is for Balogun next season could decide what happens to the others this summer.
“He will push anybody in our first team”
Nketiah’s lack of playing time has proved that when Arsenal’s first choice striker is fit, the 21-year-old is superfluous.
A loan for the England U21 captain only makes sense if his contract is extended and considering Balogun has now renewed his, a shift in the hierarchy seeing Nketiah being sold this summer to free up space and cash seems more logical. Another Serge Gnabry story would be too much.
A further argument to this is the ‘please stay’ praise Balogun received from the manager during the negotiations, but also the 15 contract proposals Balogun reportedly turned down to stay in north London. Balogun and his agent had the upper hand in negotiations and promises of a great future – and playing time – at Arsenal were surely top of the agenda.
Arteta said this about Balogun in a recent Sky Sports interview:
“He will be pushing anybody in our first team to get his spot and that’s exactly what we want.
“He’s got the chance; now it’s time for him to prove himself. We have to give him the right support, which he will get, and then it’s up to him and what he does on the pitch.”
And it’s no wonder why Arteta wanted to keep the New York born prospect at his disposal, or why he was so sought after by other clubs.
Another Hale End success?
Balogun is a boyhood Arsenal player since the age of eight who has, as his potential predecessor Nketiah, banged in the goals at academy level.
From his first season for the U18s to his current one at the U21s Balogun has netted 60 goals and assisted 14 in 89 games, earning him his first England U20 cap last October.
When given the chance in the first team this season he’s been clinical, scoring twice and assisting once in six appearances. That’s especially impressive as it’s from a total of 76 minutes of play.
Though Balogun has dipped his toe in the deep end of the pool, the step up to the Premier League – even as a backup – is a big one. Perhaps a loan is what comes next for the 19-year-old.
That was the plan for Nketiah when he spent six months at Leeds last season. Acting more as a super sub in Yorkshire he was recalled and used as a sub at Arsenal, and his development stalled.
It’s worth mentioning that the last academy player to truly make the forward position his own (having at least 100 appearances for Arsenal’s first team) was John Radford in the 1960s and 70s.
Now it’s decision time and with a reasonably high sale value and the need for regular playing time, and possibly Balogun, Lacazette, Aubameyang and Martinelli ahead of him in the queue, it might be time cash in on Nketiah.
Arsenal need to avoid writing the same chapter in Balogun’s story. A loan is ideal, but only at a club that will start him consistently and can just about guarantee it.
On to the last piece of the puzzle: Lacazette.
Replace, renew or sell?
The Frenchman is Arsenal’s top scorer with 17 goals this season. But as he turns 30 this May and with one year left on his contract, Edu and Arteta have to rule on his future.
Arsenal like every club, are still financially troubled by the pandemic, and thus an extension is a more cost-effective solution than replacing Lacazette for a new, flashy starting striker.
However finding suitors who are willing to pay is difficult, as Arsenal experienced last summer trying to offload Mesut Özil, Shkodran Mustafi, Sead Kolasinac and others. That will not change this time around either and though the Gunners will likely listen to offers for Lacazette, the uncertainty of them coming in makes it difficult to plan ahead.
He could be sold if the right offers come in, he could even stay out his contract as his transfer value isn’t very high, or his contract could be extended by a year.
If Arsenal are without their owner’s financial backing this summer, replacing Lacazette, when other parts of the squad need upgrading, will be tough. Leaving a final decision on Lacazette, a wait-and-see approach and then decide on selling or extending by a year, seems wisest.
Replacing the Frenchman internally with Aubameyang, who has been less effective on the wing since Arteta took charge, is an alternative worth considering too. But that will force a change in attacking style. Aubameyang isn’t suited to drop deep and battle defenders the way Lacazette does.
Balogun needs a fruitful loan. Nketiah should be sold or extended. And anything can happen to Lacazette, really. The only one who’s safe is the former. This puzzle is far from finished.