England under-21s head coach Lee Carsley says academy football is “a bit too easy” for Folarin Balogun but accepts the striker has a lot of competition for regular football at Arsenal.
The 20-year-old committed his long-term future to the Gunners in April and was subsequently tipped for a breakthrough year at the Emirates but the retention of Eddie Nketiah has limited his involvement in matchday squads.
While the striker did make his Premier League debut for a Covid-hit Gunners on the opening day of the season against Brentford, he’s only played 18 minutes of first team football since.
His frustration has been taken out on opponents at under-23 level, where he’s helped Kevin Betsy’s side to the top of Premier League 2 with 10 goals and two assists in eight appearances.
In Carsley’s eyes, those stats are evidence that Balogun needs a sterner test.
“You need testing,” he said. “Watching him in the Under 23s for Arsenal, it’s probably a little bit too easy for him and he’s passed that level.
“I imagine he wants to play for Arsenal and pushing for a position but it’s such a big club with a lot of competition.”
Carsley was quick to make clear he’s not criticising Arsenal’s handling of the player.
“They’ll have a career path for him and a way to break through because he’s got all the attributes. He’s level-headed, wants to work hard, asks really good questions. He wants information. He’s picking Ashley [Cole] and Joleon [Lescott]’s brains on defenders.
“I think it would be fair to say that a lot of the clubs in Europe would be aware of Flo’s qualities and if anything he has just got to keep proving it to himself.
“He is the only person he’s got to impress and look himself in the mirror. He’s got outstanding ability, attributes and work rate and he is a player that people look forward to seeing.”
Balogun has already been told he’ll lead the line for England under-21s when they face the Czech Republic on Thursday in a crunch European Championship qualifier.
Explaining the decision to let the striker know well in advance, Carsley added: “I wanted him to have that chance that to mentally prepare that he was going to be our No9 and our one that we’re looking at to score goals.I’ve seen that this week in training, I can see the focus he’s had and he’s relished that chance. It’s down to him now.”
Carsley also urged people to stop lazily comparing Balogun to fellow Gunner Eddie Nketiah. He firmly believes the young pretender is his own man.
“It’s always easy to compare younger players with someone and the easy comparison would be Eddie Nketiah,” he said. “But they’re totally different players. Flo has different attributes to Eddie. We’ve had Tammy Abraham, Dom Solanke, DCL, Adam Armstrong but he’s very much an individual, not like any of them.”
In retrospect, Arsenal probably should have sent Balogun on loan in the summer once it became clear that Nketiah wouldn’t be leaving. No doubt we’ll rectify the situation in in January although with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang heading to the African Cup of Nations we might not finalise the decision until later in the window.