Why Arsenal decided against recalling Folarin Balogun from his Reims loan spell

Folarin Balogun scored a hat-trick as Reims came from behind to beat Lorient 4-2 last night (Picture: Twitter)

Arsenal loanee Folarin Balogun enhanced his burgeoning reputation last night with a sensational hat-trick in Reims’ comeback win over Lorient.

The 21-year-old took his Ligue 1 tally for the season to 14 goals from 20 matches and he is now the competition’s top scorer, leaving the likes of Kylian Mbappe and Lionel Messi in his wake.

Hale End academy graduate Balogun shot to prominence two years ago following some spectacular displays for Arsenal’s Under-21 side but his future appeared to lie away from the north London club with his contract winding down and little prospect of first team opportunities.

Balogun appeared to have severed his ties with the Gunners when he posted a pointed message on Twitter after he had been left out the first team squad for an FA Cup tie at Southampton, but was eventually persuaded to sign a lucrative long-term deal.

The American-born striker spent the second half of last season on loan at Middlesbrough before Mikel Arteta took the decision to offer Balogun the chance of more first team experience at Reims.

Balogun has thrived under the management of Reims’ coaching prodigy, the 30-year-old Englishman, William Still and demonstrated his natural goalscoring instincts again last night as the unfashionable club extended their unbeaten run to 15 matches in all competitions.

Back at his parent club Arsenal, Arteta has been reliant on another homegrown youngsters, Eddie Nketiah, who has flourished in the injury-enforced absence of headline summer signing Gabriel Jesus.

England’s record Under-21 goalscorer is the only recognised available senior striker on Arsenal’s books at present, yet Arteta resisted the temptation to recall Balogun during the January window.

According to The Athletic, the Arsenal manager thought it would be detrimental to Balogun’s development to reduce him to the role of back-up in his title-chasing side, while there would have been a not insignificant financial cost to ending the loan prematurely.

Jesus, meanwhile, appeared to take a significant step on the road to recovery yesterday by training on grass for the first time since suffering a serious knee injury at the World Cup.

The former Manchester City star is said to be hopeful of returning to first team action in just over a months’ time but Mikel Arteta was more circumspect when he gave an update on the 25-year-old’s fitness ahead of last weekend’s FA Cup defeat against the reigning champions.

Arteta said: ‘With him I don’t know. With him he wants to be here next week but it’s totally unrealistic.

‘He’s pushing and driving everyone to the limits. I cannot give you an answer. Hopefully it will be weeks and not months but it was a serious injury and we need to respect that process as well.’

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