Folarin Balogun will start for England Under-21 in a high-stakes qualifier against Czech Republic tomorrow evening that will provide an opportunity to convince Arsenal that he deserves to play more regularly.
Lee Carsley, the Under-21 head coach, spoke firmly about the striker being too good for playing club development football earlier today and indicated that a loan move may be required if Mikel Arteta does not have plans to offer more openings in north London.
Several Championship clubs are monitoring his situation closely and it seems likely that the 20-year-old, who made one Premier League start this season when Arteta was without a number of first-choice players, will make a temporary move in January.
“You need testing,” Carsley 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.
“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 workrate and he is a player that people look forward to seeing.”
With Rhian Brewster suspended following his sending off away to Andorra last month, Balogun was told more than a week ago that he would start against the Czechs at Turf Moor, a game that is close to must win as England seek to qualify for the 2023 European Championship
Carlsey thought that the advanced notice would get the striker into the right frame of mind and he has seen evidence of that in training over the past three days.
“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.,” the former Everton midfielder said. “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.
“I like Rhian and we’ll keep giving him opportunities but we want competition for places and we want the lads to push each other and Flo is definitely capable of doing that.”
The comparisons with Eddie Nketiah’s career trajectory are clear. The Under-21s’ record goalscorer, who served as captain under Aidy Boothroyd, has also struggled for opportunities at Arsenal with his only action this season coming in the EFL Cup.
“It’s always easy to compare younger players with someone and the easy comparison would be Eddie Nketiah,” Carsley added. “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.”