Arsenal have loaned youngster Folarian Balogun to Championship side Middlesbrough, for the remainder of the season. There is no purchase option or obligation included in the deal. Middlesbrough will cover 15% of Balogun’s £43,000-a-week salary (£6450-a-week).
This is not a totally unexpected move from Arsenal, given Balogun’s insufficient game time since signing his new contract in April. Balogun has found first-team opportunities limited by Eddie Nketiah, Alexandre Lacazette and, until his recent exile from the squad, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
Balogun did initially start in the club’s opening day defeat away to Brentford and was also a 79th minute substitute in the club’s 2-0 defeat at home to Chelsea. Both of these appearances were direct results of the unfortunate COVID-19 infections that decimated the squad in the opening weeks of the season.
Ever since then, Balogun has found first-team opportunities thin on the ground, which has no doubt contributed a fair amount of rust to the striker’s game, as evidenced in his fairly lacklustre cameo in the club’s 5-1 win over Sunderland, in which he was hauled off 10 minutes into the 2nd half after picking up a hugely unnecessary booking.
A path to the first-team always seemed highly unlikely this season, given the aforementioned options that are currently blocking his route into the first-team and the ability for both Nicolas Pépé and Gabriel Martinelli to occupy the role too.
It is likely that Balogun’s opportunities will improve next season. Both Eddie Nketiah and Alexandre Lacazette are likely to leave the club for free in the summer, if not before, as neither shows any interest in signing new deals with the club and the future of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is likely to lead to the Gabonese forward seeing new challenges elsewhere.
While Arsenal would have likely preferred that Balogun picked up first-team opportunities for Arsenal in the Premier League, the Championship is still a very good place for Balogun to seek new challenges, especially given Middlesbrough’s current league position and absence of goals.
Balogun first appeared on Arsenal fan’s radar after a series of impressive performances for the Arsenal U23s and after scoring in the club’s 0-3 win over Molde in the UEFA Europa League and then in the team’s 2-4 win over FC Dundalk.
Though there was some speculation that Balogun would perhaps look for another challenge elsewhere, he soon committed his future to the club in April and was handed the number 26 shirt for the season.
Balogun is the second Arsenal player to leave this January, with fellow Hale End graduate Ainsley Maitland-Niles departing for AS Roma for the remainder of the season too.