Race to sign Arsenal's Folarin Balogun intensifies with three-way battle

Nick Ames and Fabrizio Romano
·2-min read
<span>Photograph: Paul Faith/AFP/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Paul Faith/AFP/Getty Images

The race to sign Arsenal striker Folarin Balogun has narrowed down to three serious contenders, all of whom hope to secure the 19-year-old on a pre-contract agreement this month.

Balogun has so far turned down offers to stay at Arsenal, although the Premier League club retain hope that the situation will change. He is not the only promising academy product Arsenal risk losing in the near future, with the winger Kido Taylor-Hart yet to sign a professional deal amid strong interest domestically and from overseas.

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Fifteen clubs – both at home and abroad – have been trailing Balogun, who is one of the most highly-rated recent youth products at Arsenal but has found first-team action hard to come by. The Guardian understands there are now three in the mix for his signature, along with the option of remaining with Mikel Arteta’s side, and a decision is due in the next fortnight.

Arteta emphasised last week that he wants Balogun, a prolific scorer at youth levels, to stay at Arsenal. “The club wants to make a deal, the manager wants to make a deal, the player wants to stay and I’m not sure about the agent,” he said. He went on to suggest Balogun’s representatives need to “defend the same interests, which is the player’s interest”.

Balogun is represented by the same agency as Eddie Nketiah, his teammate and rival for a place up front or – realistically, as things stand – on Arsenal’s bench. He has impressed in Europa League cameos this season, scoring twice, but has played 13 minutes domestically and was not involved in the FA Cup third round win over Newcastle last Saturday.

The situation surrounding Taylor-Hart is different, although it is clearly of concern. While most youngsters are given professional deals upon turning 17, Taylor-Hart turned 18 in September and remains on academy scholarship terms. His progress was held up by an injury-affected 2019-20 season but he has impressed so far this term, looking the part in early appearances for the under-23s. He trained with the first team as recently as last week and is regarded within the club as a natural talent with significant potential.

Interest in Taylor-Hart is understood to be considerable and he would be free to move on when his present deal ends this summer if no new contract is agreed.

Losing both players, who have spent 23 years between them in the Arsenal youth setup, would risk being a step backwards given the success another academy graduate, Bukayo Saka, has experienced since signing his new deal with the club last year.