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Arteta set for transfer disappointment after comments on Arsenal contract talks

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It came as no great surprise that Mikel Arteta used his press conference yesterday to express his hope that Folarin Balogun could be persuaded to stay at Arsenal.

The 18-year-old striker is perhaps the hardest of talents to train and uncover, a natural goalscorer. A natural right-footer he can score with his left and with his head and has the composure and movement to carve out space where there ought not to be any. At a young age he already looks to be at the level where youth football defences simply cannot handle him.

Even though Arsenal are blessed with numerous excellent young strikers Arteta would not want to lose a player with Balogun's potential.

"I am not worried because I know that the club is doing their best to try to keep them [Bukayo Saka and Folarin Balogun]," he said. "Hopefully we can have some good news about them very soon.

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"They know my opinion on them and how much I like working on them, the intention that I have in the future with them. I see them really committed and hopefully we can find the right agreement for both parties and move on, because I think there's a great future ahead of us with these kids."

Notably Arteta grasped an offer to row back on his comments, agreeing when asked if he was talking in general terms that that was what he was doing. It is not immediately clear what he would then have meant in the round when discussing his opinion on them and how committed they are.

Arteta's commitment to playing youngsters has been admirable, he has not shied away from discarding the biggest of names to make room for the young guns. Most notable of all has been his decision to give Eddie Nketiah every opportunity to compete with Alexandre Lacazette for the starting role.

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It is a battle that Nketiah is winning and that, according to sources close to Arsenal, is part of the reason why Balogun and the club are minded to part ways.

It has been apparent for some time that there simply would not be room at Arsenal for three England youth international strikers to realise their full potential, especially if Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang are still at the club next season.

Nketiah's star is rising whilst Tyreece John-Jules perhaps has the advantage of having foibles to his game that differentiate him from the other two. John-Jules, who returns from Lincoln today to train with the Arsenal squad, has been deployed in a wider variety of positions by Under-23s head coach Steve Bould, including as a No.10.

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John-Jules established himself as slightly ahead of his fellow academy graduate in Arteta's early season pecking order, featuring on the substitutes bench in the FA Cup win over Leeds, and is very well regarded by the head coach. So, it should be noted, is Balogun.

How then to explain Arteta's comments? It is natural that a head coach would want a player like Balogun to stay. There is also a persuasive argument for the club to tie the 18-year-old down to a long-term contract - his current deal is believed to expire next summer - and allow him to develop on loan.

Flo Balogun and David Luiz during a training session at London Colney (Image: Stuart MacFarlane/Arsenal FC via Getty Images)

That argument may not be as convincing to Balogun, who is reported to have turned down an offer that included significant performance incentives. There has been a trend in recent years for top young players to eschew spending years of prime development out on loan with managers who often have little motivation to develop talent. Better to follow the path of players such as Jadon Sancho and Ronaldo Vieira by heading to a different club on a permanent basis.

He will not be short on suitors. Brentford made a £5million offer for Balogun in January whilst Southampton are said to be keen to sign him. Arsenal may not get the same fee they might have earned earlier in the year but they could earn several million as well as inserting buyback and sell-on clauses in any agreement.

It might feel like a blow to lose Balogun and yet in many ways it merely reflects how productive Arsenal's academy has been when it comes to developing young attackers. Nketiah has already carved out a first team role for himself, John-Jules is making encouraging progress and there are still younger prospects such as Sam Greenwood and Khayon Edwards with the U18s. All that and Gabriel Martinelli, who may yet develop into a centre forward.

There simply cannot be room for all these burgeoning stars and Balogun is already proving at youth level that he is ready to take the next step up. That it cannot come at Arsenal is of course disappointing but it also reflects the reality of producing good players on a consistent basis. There is not room for all of them.




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