Premier League • England

England Under-21 boss Lee Carsley says Arsenal striker ‘needs testing’

Bukayo Saka Folarin Balogun Arsenal September 2021

England under-21s head coach Lee Carsley says academy football is “a bit too easy” for Folarin Balogun and says the Arsenal striker “needs testing”.

Balogun will start Thursday’s Euro 2023 qualifier against the Czech Republic at Turf Moor. It will prove a test for the 20-year-old and the rest of Carsley’s squad because the Czech Republic are top of Group G, five points above England having played a game more.

It will be a welcome run-out for Balogun, who has been starved of first-team action this season.

The striker is well regarded by Mikel Arteta, who convinced him to commit his long-term future to the Gunners in April. But after making his debut for the Gunners on the opening day of the season against Brentford, he’s only played 18 minutes since.

His game time instead has been coming for Kevin Betsy’s U23 side. And Balogun has 10 goals and two assists in eight appearances in Premier League 2.

Those stats suggest that Balogun is tearing it up and Carsley believes it’s a level he has surpassed.

“You need testing,” said Carsley. “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 stopped short of suggesting Balogun should go out on loan and refused to criticise Arsenal’s plan for the player.

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“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.

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Carsley wants comparisons to stop

“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,” said Carsley.


The former Derby defender also urged people to stop comparing Balogun to team-mate Eddie Nketiah.

“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 (Dominic Calvert-Lewin) and Adam Armstrong. But he’s very much an individual, not like any of them.”

Explaining the early decision tell Balogun he would start against the Czechs, Carsley added: “I wanted him to have that chance that to mentally prepare that he was going to be our No 9 and 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.”

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