The opportunity for youngsters to impress often comes when others are unavailable, and Folarin Balogun will hope that his chance to make an impact in the Arsenal first-team has finally arrived.
Eddie Nketiah is set to be suspended for three games following his red card against Leicester City last night, which means that there are a lack of alternative attacking options available to Mikel Arteta for the games against Tottenham Hotspur, Liverpool and Manchester City, especially with Gabriel Martinelli out for the rest of the season due to injury.
Balogun’s situation has been well documented. The striker, who has scored goals galore for Arsenal at youth level, is into the final year of his contract at the club and there is much uncertainty regarding whether he will sign a new deal.
Since the Premier League restarted only a select group of youngsters have trained with the first-team – James Hillson, Harry Clarke, Zak Swanson, Matt Smith, Zech Medley, Trae Coyle and Daniel Ballard – with the letter’s participation cut short due to injury.
However, Hillson and Clarke joined the group later after injuries to others, and although Nketiah is still fit to train, Balogun will hope that he will now be afforded an opportunity to make an impact, at least in training.
It is very possible that Arsenal could deal with this situation without even taking Balogun into consideration. They do, of course, already have Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette to call upon, while Nicolas Pepe has played 22 games as a centre forward during his career.
Arsenal have enough depth to cope without Balogun, too. Cedric Soares wasn’t included in the matchday squad last night and could easily replace Nketiah on the bench in that regard.
Also, it has to be taken into consideration that, although Balogun has been following his own individual fitness programme, he hasn’t been involved in team training since March, so he may not be ready to be thrown into first-team action immediately.
With that in mind, Coyle, who featured for the first-team in a friendly against Brentford recently, appears more likely to be involved with the senior squad at present than Balogun. He may not be a striker but he is still an option in the final third.
Under normal circumstances, Tyreece John-Jules, who is highly rated by Arteta, would also be considered as an option. However, John-Jules suffered an injury while on loan at Lincoln City and may not be fully fit.
The best solution to this issue would be for Balogun to be called up to first-team training so that he can be assessed by Arteta.
Having some involvement with the first-team, even if he isn’t yet playing, may encourage Balogun to remain at the club.
Balogun will hope that this situation enables him to receive his second first-team callup and potentially make his debut, but the reality probably isn’t quite as straightforward as that.