OPINION: With the loanees in such excellent form, Arsenal need to be proactive, not desperate, in the January window as they look to further the project moving forward.
Arsenal loanees Folarin Balogun and Charlie Patino both excelled at their respective clubs last weekend whilst the Premier League leaders were held to a 1-1 draw at Southampton.
The Gunners looked a little jaded at St Mary’s after having to deal with extremely difficult and taxing fixture congestion in recent weeks. After edging their last three games in all competitions by a 1-0 scoreline, they finally dropped points at the hands of the Saints.
There’s no need to panic, though. The Gunners have been thoroughly impressive so far this season and Mikel Arteta’s project at the Emirates is really starting to take shape.
Although the draw with Southampton suggests that Arsenal could do with one or two more reinforcements in January to help tackle the busy schedule, Balogun and Patino’s performances for Reims and Blackpool serve as timely reminders that the Gunners don’t need to invest for the sake of investing. The long-term plan is clear and it’s still in safe hands.
Another goal at the weekend means that Balogun is now on seven in 12 Ligue 1 games. He’s therefore making a name for himself as one of the most prolific strikers in France. Meanwhile, Gabriel Jesus and Eddie Nketiah have been sharing the burden of leading Arsenal’s line but it’s clear that they may need an extra bit of help from the bench in the future.
Although he had an electric start to his Gunners career, Jesus has failed to score since the North London Derby earlier this month. Nketiah hasn’t started in the league yet, so it’s perhaps difficult and unfair to judge him on that accord, but he has also seen his tally dry up in the Europa League of late. 21-year-old Balogun will be able to provide an answer to that struggle because he can add further competition.
As Balogun is an out-and-out frontman, his depth will enable Arteta to experiment with different combinations. For example, like playing Jesus out wide as oppose to through the middle. Some fans may call for a stop-gap purchase in January – especially if Arsenal are in with a shot of winning the league – but it might not the best forward planning.
The same goes for Patino, who has become a fan favourite down at Blackpool. Many expected a player with his slight frame to struggle with the physicality of Championship football, but he has shaken off the occasional injury and shown that his future lies with Arsenal rather than the Tangerines.
He even has his own song in Lancashire, which was notably sung when he netted against rivals Preston North End on Saturday. It goes: “He’s Charlie Patino, he knew the place to go, although he’d never seen, the boys in Tangerine, he felt it everywhere, he breathed the sea air, and then he said to me, I ******* hate PNE [Preston North End].”
We’ve often heard about the Gunners’ struggles in midfield, especially if injuries occur to either Thomas Partey or Granit Xhaka – or as often feared, both. Whilst there have been several calls to sign the likes of Youri Tielemans – whose contract runs out at Leicester in the summer – as early as January, Patino will be a big part of Edu and Arteta’s thinking when it comes to making such big calls.
Plus, in more good news, the pair aren’t the only two in line to make an impact when they return. Nuno Tavares has shown what he can do when given a little more offensive freedom. The left-back struggled defensively at Arsenal but he’s always had a bit of a spark going forward. With three goals in Ligue 1, he’s playing with a little more conviction. Edu and Co. may look to cash-in on him in the future, but the option is there to keep him in north London and use him sporadically next season.
Perhaps then, Balogun, Patino and Tavares’ performances would be better perceived as messages to Arteta. That message being ‘don’t forget about me’ – as he likely hasn’t. Arsenal have to be proactive in January, not desperate. Buy the right players at the right time, sure, but also remember the talent that is already there.