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  • By Alessandro Schiavone

Arsenal's Balogun outshone by their target Wahi but goes down a Reims legend after bagging 21 goals

By Alessandro Schiavone at Stade August Delaune in Reims

Ligue 1: Stade Reims 1-3 Montpellier

Goals: Balogun (SR), Wahi, Wahi & Nordin (M)

Folarin Balogun’s farewell to Stade Reims didn’t go as he had hoped for as his goal was undone by a double of rival and Arsenal target Elye Wahi with Montpellier cruising to a 3-1 win.


This was always going to be an emotional night for the Gunners loanee who looked teary during the teams’ customary pitch inspection ahead of kick-off. And it showed early on in the game when he missed a sitter after nine minutes. After Munetsi flicked on Foket’s cross, the striker, unmarked, got it completely wrong by firing his shot into the stands.


Yet like so often, he kept going to put it right. And impressively, only two minutes before the half-hour mark he didn’t need a second invitation when he finally tapped home Foke’s flick-on to erase the unpleasant memory of his early calamity.  


That opener changed the mood of the match, a slow burner up until then. 


And Reims, still enjoying the lion’s share of possession but short of inspiration in the final third, banked on their 21-goal wonder to do the damage for them against the lethargic visitors. 


Minutes later, the 22-year-old USA international latched on to a second ball before attempting an audacious volley from a long way out. The shot flashed over but there will be a time, in future, when chances like that one will come off if he keeps going for it.  


That moment in particular evidenced what many French football observers have long sussed out: the kid’s got a lot of confidence. 


He may have an infinitely long way to go to get anywhere near his idol Thierry Henry. But even Titi, who flopped at Juventus, wasn’t the finished article yet at 22. 


Even though he led the line in manager Will Still's 4-2-3-1 system during the season that just came to a close, after careful analysis we can confidently suggest that Balogun isn’t a typical no.9. He doesn't (yet) have the killer instinct and doesn't wait 90 minutes for the ball to be played to him in the box. His movement, link-up play and habit to go deep suggest that there’s so much more to get out of him than goals. Yet he can learn a thing or two from Wahi, who ruthlessly took both of the chances that were served up to him on a plate. It's a regular occurrence that Balogun needs 5-6 opportunities before he hits the onion bag in a game. And at big clubs where the game is not centred around him like at Reims, he won't get that many.


The 20-year-old Montpellier man, who is one of several players circled by Arsenal, cancelled out his opener at the first time of asking when he rose highest to head home Montpellier’s equaliser 54th minute. And the southern France club's academy graduate also coolly slotted his second home after racing clear of the sleepy Reims backline. Balogun, a passenger for much of the second period, produced a moment of individual brilliance when he wriggled clear of several markers. But fired over from distance.



To us Wahi looked more like a killer, a proper centre-forward with a knack for finishing off what his team creates like Jean-Pierre Papin used to back in his heyday. He's a player who lives for the goal and is obsessed with scoring. Balogun thrives more as a second striker and can create chances for himself even if the other nine of his teammates aren’t on the same page whereas the lethal Wahi is more dependent of their support and collaboration. 


Yesterday Wahi and Montpellier left Reims with a big smile on their faces. Yet they end the campaign one point behind Reims, with the former M'brough loanee, despite coming up short on a personal and collective levels, at least earning bragging rights for the season having managed two more than his fellow free-scoring counterpart.


The pair could now end up becoming teammates at Arsenal although that looks improbable as Wahi is understood to favour a few more seasons in French football for his development whereas Arsenal may decide to cash in on their youngster who is reportedly on AC Milan, Napoli, Lille and Marseille’s radars.


Fast forward ten months, it's undeniable that his brave move to France handsomely paid off.

Balogun will depart the Stade Auguste Delaune on the back of a fantastic return of 21 goals, with a massively enhanced reputation and immortality status on these shores. In the Champagne-Ardennes they hadn't seen anyone like him since the days of the late Raymond Kopa. Divinity, albeit to a different degree, will unite them forever. He’s in fact the first player in the club’s history to have scored 20 goals in a single Ligue 1 campaign.  The USA, his country of birth and national team he decided to represent, legalise alcohol at 21. It’s fair to say that he has more than earned the right to enjoy a night out on the town with the one or the other drink. Having gained the keys to this city, any expenditures are likely to be entirely covered by whoever bumps into him.

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