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  • By Alessandro Schiavone in Reims

Folarin Balogun is outscoring Messi and outclassing S.Ramos in France as Arsenal return nears...

By Alessandro Schiavone at the Stade Auguste-Delaune in France

Stade Reims 0-0 PSG

Such is the start of life he made in French football that Stade Reims supporters have long been loyal paid-up members of the Folarin Balogun fan club.

Some observers may now critically bring up that the Arsenal loanee's goals have dried up.

A scoring sensation in summer, having rippled the net five times in the opening six outings, goals have indeed come in shorter supply, with only one cheer in the past four encounters.

Yet, the best thing about the youngster is that for all his firepower in the final third, there is more about him than just goals.

In the goalless draw with serial champions PSG, he looked difficult to defend at times, especially before the break.

The man wearing number 29 was up against two experienced heads in Sergio Ramos and Marquinhos but relished the battles.

Instead of being starstruck or intimidated, he used his youthful exuberance and speed of thought and legs to work the Parisians’ defence relentlessly and stretch the game.

And when a telegraphed weighted pass fell in his stride on the stroke of half-time, he outpaced his two markers with a clever run in behind.

Yet Real Madrid legend Ramos poked the ball away just when the 21-year-old was about to tap it into a gaping net with Gianluigi Donnarumma beaten. The Spaniard's sensational reading of the game and navigated GPS played a big role here rather than Balogun's lack of finishing touch.

Impressively, he showcased a capability to make the right runs and beat the offside trap. Add an admirable willpower to make it. Balogun isn’t a Yaya Sanogo or Jay Emmanuel Thomas who felt ‘arrived’ after signing their professional contracts with the Gunners. This is a player who dreams big and is secretly inspired by the example of Emile Smith Rowe, who matured on loan at RB Leipzig before coming of age in North London.

Deployed in attack alongside Arber Zeneli on Saturday night, he dropped deep to help Munetsi, Matusiwa and Lopy in midfield and even drew the applause of the crowd when he flew in like a runaway Eurostar, eh pardon TGV, to shimmy between Ramos and Marquinhos.

And it wasn’t over for the rattled Brazil star. Because Balogun nearly humiliated him in the box, when cutting on his right before quickly turning left. The skipper had to perform a fine saving intervention to block the goal-bound effort.

But despite the gulf in experience and being at opposite ends of their careers, Arsenal's hotshot clearly fancied his chances against Marquinhos, whose PSG and Brazil are destined to win the lot this season.

The former Roma star has racked up 413 games as opposed to Balogun’s 41, with ten of those coming with Arsenal marked by two Europa League goals against Molde and Dundalk two years ago.

On Saturday Reims rode their luck at times. Like when Neymar, teed up by his ami ennemi Kylian Mbappe fired wide in the 67th minute. The French World Cup winner also had an effort saved by Diouf Yehvann in the first 45 minutes. But the minnows held on to keep their heads above water in the relegation battle, as they are level on points with fourth-from-bottom Angers but boast a slightly better goal difference. If the season ended today they would be guaranteed another season in France's top-flight.

All Balogun targets is to keep scoring to keep the club up.

And after spending the second part of the campaign on loan at Middlesbrough in the Championship, he’s shaping a rosy future for himself in the division hailed as the “league of talents” on the other side of the channel.

Where Arsenal greats Thierry Henry, Emmanuel and Robert Pires made a name for themselves three decades ago.

But first things first and one step at a time. For now his mission should be to copy what Boulaye Dia and Hugo Ekitike did before him. Scoring goals for fun at the Stade Auguste Delaune before following Leicester City Wout Faes defender to the Premier League.

Should he rediscover his goalscoring instinct and keep working hard off the ball then Mikel Arteta, who is following his every burgeoning overseas step like he did with William Saliba at Marseille last year, is likely to give him a chance to state his case to pick the brains from Gabriel Jesus next term.

Such is Balogun’s impact that he even has a song dedicated to him by his own supporters.

Never mind when he directed a dipping header over after outjumping the whole PSG backline to meet a cross.

The fans will surely sing for him again next time out.

While Super Mik Arteta is licking his lips at the thought of a free new signing…



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