Dundalk 2-4 Arsenal: 4 Things We Learned as Folarin Balogun Blooms

Arsenal's English striker Folarin Balogun (L) scores his team's fourth goal during the UEFA Europa League 1st round Group B football match between Dundalk and Arsenal at Aviva Stadium in Dublin, Ireland on December 10, 2020. (Photo by Paul Faith / AFP) (Photo by PAUL FAITH/AFP via Getty Images)
Arsenal's English striker Folarin Balogun (L) scores his team's fourth goal during the UEFA Europa League 1st round Group B football match between Dundalk and Arsenal at Aviva Stadium in Dublin, Ireland on December 10, 2020. (Photo by Paul Faith / AFP) (Photo by PAUL FAITH/AFP via Getty Images) /

Arsenal made it six wins from six as they beat Dundalk 4-2 in the Europa League on Thursday.

A game that in the context of the group meant nothing didn’t fly by without talking points, as Arsenal’s youngsters impressed on a historic evening for Mikel Arteta’s side.

Never before have Arsenal won all their matches of a European group stage, and while the quality of opposition is not much to shout home about, it nevertheless brought with it some joy in an otherwise gloomy season.

Eddie Nketiah got the opener through sheer persistence, with Mohamed Elneny scoring a Goal of the Season contender shortly after as the visitors were in cruise control.

Neat play from the hosts saw the deficit halved, as a more imaginative Dundalk side weren’t afraid to commit bodies forward in search of their first point of the 2020/21 Europa League group stage campaign.

The introduction of Folarin Balogun saw Arsenal grab two more, the first an assist from the 19-year-old for Joe Willock and the second a wonderfully taken strike to cap off a fine cameo. Miguel Azeez and Ben Cottrell came on for their senior debuts, while the Irish side capitalised from some poor marking to head home a late consolation.

Here’s what we learned from Thursday night.

Alex Runarsson, Arsenal
LONDON, ENGLAND – NOVEMBER 08: Runar Alex Runarsson of Arsenal (Photo by James Williamson – AMA/Getty Images) /

Bernd Leno Needs Wrapping in Cotton Wool

Early on in Runar Alex Runarsson‘s Arsenal career there was little to judge on, although his distribution showed glimpses of quality against opposition sides who boasted little.

His passing could have been deemed too risky, as seen at Molde, but having barely had a save to make there was still plenty to dissect.

An error against the Icelandic side was followed up with similar uncertainties against Rapid Vienna, and on Thursday he looked far from the level required to be considered a reliable backup to Bernd Leno.

In truth, he looked quite poor. Not quick enough to react for the opener and shaky as you like with the ball this time around, the need for a No. 2 in that position will have to be tended to the upcoming transfer windows unless there is a vast improvement.

Calum Chambers, Arsenal
DUBLIN, IRELAND – DECEMBER 10: Calum Chambers of Arsenal (Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images) /

Defenders Could Do With More Group Stage Matches

It was great to see both Pablo Mari and Calum Chambers get 90 minutes under their belts in the same side, and while neither were especially bad, it’s a shame that there aren’t more group stage matches available for them to continue to get up to speed.

The usual lack of sharpness was evident in both, while equally, they showed signs of progression respectively.

Mari did well reading the play and pressuring the Dundalk forwards, just as he did well assessing when it was better to stand off. He needs to rediscover his pace as he’s desperately slow, but then again, he’s always been quite slow. Not much will change.

Chambers on the other had made a superb block at the end of the first half and was more adventurous slotting into the right-back slot, always looking for the runs of Cedric. However, it would have been nice to see more of his distribution finding central areas. More of a tactical decision than an individual one, though.

DUBLIN, IRELAND – DECEMBER 10: Emile Smith Rowe of Arsenal (Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images) /

Emile Smith Rowe Shows His Broad Skill Range

It was hoped Smith Rowe would get a chance through the middle instead of down the left, however, that was down to injuries in the squad more than Arteta switching things up.

Everyone who thought that could result in a less influential performance was deeply wrong.

Whether driving with the ball outside the full-back or in the inside spaces, his dangerous running and effortless drops of the shoulder had Dundalk players scrambling. There was also delightful link-up play between himself and Ainsley Maitland-Niles throughout.

What sticks out like a sore thumb with Smith Rowe is the way he receives the ball. Nimble footwork and an elusive body shape means he can turn one way or the other and use possession in offensive ways. This can be back to goal or on the half-turn, it makes no difference.

His creative brain is always in full flow.

Some elements of football you can’t coach, like intuition, for example. Wise to the flow of the moves he can run in behind or come short, always with the next phase of play on his mind. It’s natural ability. This lad needs to play in the Premier League, and here’s to hoping his early(ish) withdrawal points towards a spot in the squad on Sunday.

Folarin Balogun, Arsenal
Arsenal’s English striker Folarin Balogun (Photo by PAUL FAITH/AFP via Getty Images) /

Folarin Balogun Ready for the Next Step

He has the lot: strength, pace, aggression, technical prowess, intelligence and finishing ability.

Just how good Balogun is will be talked about even more than it already has. Now he’s ready for the next step.

Watching him play in these Europa League group matches has been a joy to behold, yet what we can learn from his performances against admittedly weak sides is no more than we already have. In order to truly assess how ready he is, he has to face a better quality of opposition.

It’s unlikely to be in this competition as the senior players look set to return for the knockout stages, leaving just the Premier League as the litmus test.

Nothing is holding him back…other than this damn contract. There is a collective confidence that he’ll put pen to paper, one Arteta has regularly spoken about, but you can understand the Spaniard’s hesitancy to play him from the start if he then suddenly decides to jump ship.

Next. Player Ratings vs Dundalk. dark

With Premier League minutes under his belt we can truly begin the assessment. As it is, he can do no more. Balogun will have a fantastic future in this game, Arsenal better make sure it’s with them.