Arsenal talent Folarin Balogun scored a hat-trick to help loan club Reims beat Ligue 1 rivals Lorient 4-2 on Wednesday evening.
Reims recovered from two goals down after Balogun found the net three times at the Stade Auguste-Delaune II. The 21-year-old has now scored 14 Ligue 1 goals this term - making him the top scorer in the division ahead of Kylian Mbappe, Neymar and Lionel Messi.
Balogun's scoring exploits mark a splendid turnaround for the youngster. His Arsenal future seemed in doubt after he was sent on loan to Reims at the beginning of the season, but manager Mikel Arteta will now be looking forward to his return in the summer.
Balogun, who has been on Arsenal's books since the age of eight, had struggled for goals after his senior debut in October 2020. He has managed just two in 10 first-team games for the Gunners and failed to impress during a loan spell at Middlesbrough last term.
Arteta sent Balogun to Reims to mature as a player and there is no questioning his improvement. The striker, who has two-and-a-half years left on his Arsenal contract, will be confident of challenging Gabriel Jesus and Eddie Nketiah for a starting role next term and his hat-trick is another message to his employers of what he is now capable of.
"Before I moved, Mikel said he wanted me to develop as a man," said Balogun told reporters last September. "It was kind of like an open answer and for me to interpret what me meant by develop as a man. But by moving abroad, I’m starting to learn what he meant.
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"It doesn't just mean on the pitch but also off the pitch. I think by the time I go back I’ll be in a better place to compete than I was before I left."
Balogun expanded on this during an interview with L'Equipe. He said: "Arsenal is my family. For me, the club represents brotherhood and unity. There, I learned always to push my limits. I remember from training the permanent desire to progress on a technical level."
He added: "I think by the time I go back I’ll be in a better place to compete than I was before I left. I realised there were certain things I would struggle with, but I think that’s a good thing. It helps you to manage stuff you’re uncomfortable with which is important."
Speaking last March, Arteta insisted Balogun has a big future at Arsenal. He said: "You can see how he is developing. This is going to give us more detail about what is the next best move for him to keep developing... we want him to be part of our future.
"He needed a pathway, he needs that exposure. He needs to go through good and difficult moments, and he needs to be able to adapt and find himself in the dressing room."
Balogun was spotted talking to Arsenal legend Thierry Henry ahead of Reims' 1-1 draw against Paris Saint-Germain on Sunday night. The emerging star scored a last-minute equaliser and copied one of Henry's iconic celebrations after finding the net.