Arsenal youngster Folarin Balogun is “very close” to signing a new contract, according to manager Mikel Arteta.
The 19-year-old England youth international had looked likely to leave the Gunners at the end of the season on a free transfer after struggling to break into the senior squad on a regular basis.
However, talks over a new deal appear to have progressed well and Arteta believes the player will commit his future to the north London club.
Speaking on Wednesday, he said: “We are going to make it official when it is official and everything is done, but as I said before, I have always been very positive that he wants to stay at the club. We want him to stay at the club. We are very close.”
Balogun has scored 55 goals in 78 appearances for Arsenal in youth-league competition and netted for the senior side in Europa League group-stage wins over Molde and Dundalk.
Arteta now wants to explore why he was considering pursuing his career elsewhere.
“First of all, I have just been trying to understand why he got to the point that he was really thinking about leaving the football club after being raised here and the feelings that he has got towards the club,” he said.
“Once you understand the position of him, then [you] try to explain what you want to do, how involved he is going to be in the project and how. Then get the full commitment and support from the club, and [technical director] Edu, who I think has done an incredible job as well.”
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On the pitch, Arsenal’s focus is now on Thursday’s Europa League quarter-final second leg against Slavia Prague, who scored an injury-time equaliser to force a 1-1 draw in the reverse fixture.
Given they are ninth in the Premier League table, their best hope of returning to Europe next season would appear to be through winning the Europa League this term.
Goalkeeper Bernd Leno admits it is difficult to conceive of a club of Arsenal’s size missing out on continental competition entirely.
“You could see after the game how disappointed we’ve been. But it’s still half-time. You could see how big this game was for us, and tomorrow even more,” he said.
“When you think about the future without Arsenal in European competition, it doesn’t feel right. Our job is to make sure it doesn’t come true. Arsenal belong to Europe, and that’s our target.
“It’s never easy when you change the defence all the time, but it’s not an excuse. We have so many games, we have to rotate, we had some injuries. The other teams also changed their defensive line.
“Everybody knows what to do. We have a big squad, good quality. It’s not only the defence and the relationship with the goalkeeper; it’s the whole team that defends the goal.”
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