'Balogun is fire!' - How Aubameyang's favourite Arsenal youngster changed Arteta's mind

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Balogun Aubamryang Arsenal GFX
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The Gunners youngster almost left the club over the summer but is now set for talks over a new deal having made his first steps into the senior ranks

“This young boy is fire.”

Those were the words of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang when he alerted the world to the talents of Folarin Balogun with a post on social media in 2019.

Few outside of Arsenal would have been aware of the teenage striker up to that point, but when a player such as Aubameyang makes a comment like that based on what he has seen at training, others soon start to take notice.

And take notice they should, because the Gunners have one of the hottest young talents in the country in Balogun - who could be handed his second senior appearance on Thursday against Molde in the Europa League.

The forward is one of several youngsters who have made the trip to Norway with Mikel Arteta’s squad, and while he is not expected to start, he has a good chance of adding to the 14 minutes he was given off the bench against Dundalk earlier in the competition.

“It feels great,” Balogun said after making his senior debut last month. ”It's a moment I have been waiting for a little while so to finally get it feels great.

“I can only thank Mikel and the staff for this opportunity and I look forward to doing it more often.

“I've been working my way through the academy and I think as time has gone on I've become a better player. I think that's shown in my performances and I think it's good now to get the recognition that my performances deserve.”

Those final few words from Balogun following his late appearance against Dundalk shine a light on where he feels he should be now, having made such an impression at youth level in the past couple of seasons.

And they paint a picture as to why - with just eight months of his contract remaining at Arsenal - he has yet to sign a new deal with the club he has been with since he the age of 10.

Balogun has immense belief in his ability and has felt for some time now that his progress in north London has not been as fast as he would have liked.

While others such as Reiss Nelson, Emile Smith Rowe and Bukayo Saka have been given opportunities in recent seasons to work with and feature with the first-team on a regular basis, Balogun has mainly had to watch on from afar.

That is why talks over extending his contract proved so difficult and why, after months of negotiations, they broke down altogether in the summer.

Prior to that, the Gunners had rejected a £5 million ($6.7m) offer for Balogun from Championship promotion hopefuls Brentford in January, and were hoping at that point that they would be able to reach an agreement with the teenager over extending his stay.

Folarin Balogun

Sources told  Goal that Arsenal wanted the England youth international to sign a performance-based deal, one that the club believed could have been very lucrative for the player should he go on to hit the targets set out in the contract.

But Balogun’s representatives would not accept the terms offered, and Arsenal decided that a line had to be drawn in the negotiations and brought them to a halt - with the club mindful that they already had young strikers Tyreece John-Jules and Nketiah in and around the first-team set-up.

Balogun and his representatives were told he could leave once the transfer window opened, should a suitable offer arrive, but with a £3m bid from Sheffield United the only firm offer tabled, Arsenal opted to keep the forward.

There is now a chance that he could stay long-term, with Arsenal having decided to reopen talks with the striker over a new contract.

"He’s a player that I want to stay at the club," Arteta said ahead of Thursday night's game in Norway. "I love working with young players that you can see the talent is there, the ambition is there and that can fit in our structure and improve us in the future.

"He’s part of our DNA and myself and the club are working to try to extend his contract, trying to change the situation we are in at the moment with him and trying to convince him that this is the right place for him."

Folarin Balogun

So what has changed?

"I decided I wanted to keep the player," added Arteta. "The moment I started the see more of the player and changed certain things that I didn’t agree with, we decided to give it a go, to try to convince the player, try to show him what we want to do with him and why he fits in with what we are trying to do at the club.

"The young, top talent that we produce at the academy is with the final aim to put them with the first-team and make them a regular with the team.

"So when we have them, let’s keep them if we really think they are players who can take us to the next level."

With clubs in England and abroad keeping close tabs on Balogun’s situation, however, getting him to sign a new contract will not be easy.

And that is why Arteta is now making a real effort to show the teenager he will get opportunities, not just in the Europa League, but also at training, with call-ups to work with the senior squad are far more regular occurrence than before.

Balogun has caught the eye at London Colney, impressing Aubameyang - who has made an effort to take the youngster under his wing.

”Flo is very, very talented,” said the Arsenal skipper. “He shows every time he plays with us that he’s a really great talent.

"He works hard and is a humble guy as well. I love his style.

“When he trains with us we have a laugh, with Laca [Alexandre Lacazette] as well. It’s nice to be a mentor. I think the most important thing is to show an example.”

Aubameyang will be watching from home on Thursday night while Arsenal look to guarantee passage through to the Europa League knockout stages with two games to spare.

The skipper’s absence against Molde could give Balogun another chance to impress and should he grasp that opportunity in Norway, it would be no surprise to see Aubameyang take to social media again to hail his young apprentice.

“This boy is fire,” he proclaimed last year.

Whether that fire continues to burn to Arsenal, however, remains to be seen.

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