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

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

This season was a major breakthrough, as he scored 10 goals while on loan to French side Reims in the first half of the season. That’s good enough for him to be the club’s top scorer and open up more discussion about his international future, as Balogun is eligible to represent England, the United States and Nigeria.

And although he is not yet remembered by Arsenal as a replacement for the injured Gabriel Jesus, his solid form has opened up a potentially lucrative transfer market for teams in need of a goalscorer.

What made Balogun so successful in France, and how could he fit into a US national team program desperate for a striker (should he choose the US)? Let’s dig deeper.


Player profile

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

The 2020-21 campaign provided his career with a breakthrough of sorts: Balogun opened his account for Arsenal during the Europa League group stage before securing a winter loan at Middlesbrough for more regular appearances. Playing under Chris Wilder at Boro, Balogun scored three goals while adding three assists in 18 tournament appearances.

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

as it turns out, It was a dream move to all parties. talk with the athlete Last month, Balogun said Arsenal teammates Alexandre Lacazette and Nicolas Pepe each suggested he try his hand at Ligue 1 to participate more frequently in the physical league.

“(Pepe) just said to stay positive, keep working hard, and then he said he might consider a loan to Ligue 1, ‘I’m sure you can do well in this league if you apply yourself,’” Balogun said. December, “He set me a challenge to score 10 league goals and said, ‘If you do that, you’ve made progress. ‘”

As it turns out, Pepe’s “challenge” wasn’t acute. The striker scored his 10th goal of the Ligue 1 season with a brace against Rennes in Reims’ return to action after the World Cup. He did so despite managing only 19 touches, the fewest by a major league starter since late August. He missed the team’s ensuing January 2 game with A hamstring problem has been reportedwith Reims finishing 1-1 on a day away at Lille.

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So, what has changed?

In all likelihood, Balogun may not have been set up for success in his previous loan spell. Being asked to lead a team line in a promotion battle is no small task for a player’s first expanded engagement. In the established Ligue 1 side, Balogun has managed to express himself more.

stat 2021-22* 2022-23**

Shots / 90 (% on goal)

2.2 (54.2%)

3.11 (46.5%)

xG/90 (npxG/90)

0.32

0.64

Goals / 90

0.27

0.72

Touches in the pen area / 90

3.85

4.34

Offside / 90

0.37

0.87

Runs-out / 90

0.46

1.37

* With Middlesbrough (EFL Championship)
** With Reims (French League)
Data via Wyscout

While it was difficult to get the shots with Boro, he was consistent with getting them into the frame. He also finished chances near the expected average, albeit with a rather meager service. All of this pales in comparison to what he managed during the first half of the Ligue 1 campaign. Even removing his 3-for-3 penalty kick record, Balogun managed a projected 0.48 non-penalty goals per 90 counting overtime.

He’s also taken more license to play a progressive, scoring an extra touch in the box every two games, sneaking in a similar segment—showing more license to break behind the line, which isn’t a bad thing—and adding almost a full extra progressive run per game. These aren’t just significant improvements to his tournament output either. It’s the kind of profile that transforms a striker from a mainstay of the loaned army into a desirable young striker.

Here are Balogun’s percentage numbers in the following table compared to their peers in the ‘Big Five’ men’s, Champions League and Europa League positions over the past 365 days. Balogun played 1,160 qualifying minutes in that time frame.

stat # per 90 minutes percentage

Goals without penalty

0.54

86

npxG

0.52

87

Total shots

3.1

78

npxG + expected passes

0.63

78

Shot Creation Procedures

2.25

39

progressive passes

1.63

70

Progressive passes received

8.53

95

Dribbling done

1.09

71

Data via fbref dot com

If there is room for improvement, it will be in his air game. Listed at 5-foot-10 (1,55 metres), Balogun was not adept at reaching the end of heads with Reims whether balls floated off set pieces or off the path of play. Smarterscout data ranks players from zero to 99 depending on how often they perform a certain action. It also tells us how effective they are in it compared to others in their position.

However, he does well when handling his opponents with the ball at his feet while also factoring in Reims’ pressure up front. While we’d like to see a multi-tiered top, the number of real attackers dwindles with each passing year.

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Balogun seems to display nicely a more modern archetype – even when factoring in the difference in quality between Ligue 1 and the Premier League, as smarterscout data reflects on his pizza outline.


international future

Having represented England and the United States in the youth ranks and gained Nigerian eligibility, Balogun said Ligue 1 website In November, he will make a decision on who to represent him soon. While recent years have seen high-pressure decisions taken by the likes of Sergino Dest, Younes Musa, Gaga Slonina and Malek Tillman among others, Balogun is unfazed by the speculation.

“I don’t have a problem with that,” Balogun said. “It is the role of the media to ask these kinds of questions and I accept that. I will make a decision soon and that decision will not be based on what the media or people think but on what is best for me. We will talk about it calmly with my family.”

He spoke positively about his experience with the United States in the same interview.

“Yes, when I was 17 years old, the US Federation offered me a friendly match in the Czech Republic in the summer,” Balogun said. “I played for England in the Under-17 Championship a few months ago, but after speaking with my family I decided to go. And we won the tournament! It was a good experience because I saw a different way of playing and other ways. I’m still in contact with many people I met there “.

While his family deliberates his options in private, the rest of us in the public arena can take the brunt of analyzing his options. The England striker’s stable ahead of the 2026 World Cup is well headlined, with Harry Kane at 32 and Marcus Rashford only 28. There is no clear next player among the younger options after Balogun (who is currently 21), such as Aston. Villa’s Cameron Archer, Leeds’ Joe Gelhard and Tottenham’s Dean Scarlett have yet to establish themselves at club level.

Nigeria arguably has the deepest gathering of the three nations, with Napoli’s Victor Osimhen leading a group that includes Ademola Lookman, Samuel Chukwueze, Kelechi Iheanacho and Terme Movie, who also scored 10 goals in the Ligue 1 season with Lorient.

But for the United States, no center has been weaker than the striker over the past five years. During the Greg Berhalter era, the team chose to play their forwards in a more withdrawn role, asking them to play in building phases and create opportunities for their wingers as well as for themselves.

While Jesus Ferreira has been the top choice all summer in a deep role, he struggled in his only World Cup appearance, starting against the Netherlands in the round of 16. Josh Sargent looked much better alongside Christian Pulisic and Tim Weh but fell short. Factor to score chances himself before missing the knockout defeat due to injury. Haji Wright came in more of a target option than pure goalscorer, but struggled to impress in the Championship after making his impressive debut against Wales.

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The three represent a different approach to the situation; All three struggled. In Balogun, the program would find the white whale: someone who could be a good attacker and upgrade existing options.

Balogun vs USA Strikers in the 2022 World Cup, 2022-23*

Balogun vs USA in the 2022 World Cup

Balogun Ferreira Sargent I have seen

Shots / 90 (% on goal)

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

Touches in the pen area / 90

4.34

3.48

4.15

3.65

Passes forward / 90 (min%)

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%)

Aerial duels (% win)

2.53 (20%)

1.04 (19.4%)

5.58 (38.8%)

5.6 (41.3%)

Refunds for ½

2.46

2.87

4.11

1.89

Data via Wyscout
*All 2022-23 league match data except Ferreira, who uses the full 2022 MLS season

Not only did Balogun shoot more shots per 90, but he did so at a respectable level of putting shots in the frame. Even an xG of 0.52 without a penalty would be the best in the category, not to mention the 0.64 count in its segment for three penalties converted.

The rest of the data helps show how he plays for Reims, even if you don’t watch Ligue 1. The forward passing numbers help explain the difference between Ferreira – a player who goes farther if there was one – and Wright, more of a classic goal forward. On this spectrum, Balogun is almost identical to Sargent, also boosted by the number of quirks he attempts. Unlike the Norwich striker, Balogun has yet to show much ability in the air while factoring in less in the front line of defence.

However, based on numbers alone, Balogun is a better scoring threat than the current state of the US men’s forwards without sacrificing many of the factors that helped Sargent (and in the playoffs, Ricardo Pepi) become ideal choices between Pulisic, Weah, and the rest. wing options.

While January may not have seen Balogun change clubs, his loan spell in France has really elevated his game to another level. Whether he will join Musah and Tillman in leading the United States to the 2026 World Cup or become one of the program’s greatest near misses like Neven Suboti or Giuseppe Rossi remains to be seen.

Whatever he’s inclined, it’s clear he’s finally getting his senior career back on track – whether or not he’s in Mikel Arteta’s plans to move forward at Arsenal.

(Photo: Gareth Copley/Getty Images)



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