The silly season is upon us. England's transfer window is open, blowing out the cobwebs of a winter spent shut and bringing some fresh air into oh wow what a ridiculously bad metaphor I'll stop now.
Anyway, with the silly season comes a lot of silly speculation. Hazard? Hulk? M'Villa? InsertNameHere? They're all on the market. But should Arsenal be pursuing them (except Hazard, obviously), and the ridiculous paydays a lot of them will command?
There are two primary ways to build a roster on any team in any sport in the world. One is to go the "organic" route - use your team's resources to grow from within, to develop the kids, and to mature those kids to the point where they become household names that either move to a club willing to pay the price for that fully developed asset or they stay where they are out of loyalty to the team that built them up from nothing. The other, of course, is to assemble a team of the best talent money can buy, no matter what the cost, and do this year after year, plugging in replacement-level parts alongside the big money signings as needed (the "Stars & Scrubs" philosophy). Neither one is right or wrong; they both have their merits, and it's down to the individual fan to determine which approach s/he wants to see their team take.
The advantages of the throw-tons-of-money-at-great-players philosophy are pretty easy to see - every year, you're built to win, and there's no "wait till (current hot prospect) gets really good". For an impatient fan or fan base, this is a great approach - your team will always be in contention, and you know that in the off season, your team will always be in the race to sign Joe Hot Prospect Of The Off Season. If you as a sports fan want to follow a team that wins, and wins now, and (presumably) wins often, this is the approach for you. There are many clubs that fit this model - the problem is, in any given sports league there can only be one champion at a time, so even with the expenditure of vast sums of money that championship is not guaranteed.
Then there's the longer-term approach, the more "organic" approach (as if one were more pure than the other). The approach that says, we're going to get a bunch of kids - they may be sought-after and they may be unknown but they'll be kids - and we'll groom them. We'll teach them the game, teach them to play the game Our Way, and hope that they blossom into the type of player that other teams would eventually pay big money for (even if the developing team doesn't sell that player). This approach requires patience on the part of the fan, and a degree of faith that the team knows what it's doing both short and long term. It may not result in as many championships as the "spend now" approach, but on the other hand, the championships that are won feel less like a birthright and more like a special occasion.
This is a very strange point in the history of Arsenal. They are by no means a bad team, but the criteria for success has shifted; when I first started watching soccer, the priorities for "top" teams were pretty much win the league, win the FA Cup, and everything else (Cup Winners Cup, European Cup) was a nice bonus but did not detract from a season's success if they weren't won.
Now, though, the most important thing for a team that has pretensions to being a "big" team is Champions League qualification - that is the combination that unlocks the vault containing near-unlimited amounts of money to be bestowed on its participants - then league position (not winning the league, mind - winning would be great, but as long as you finish in the Champions League places that's what counts) and then domestic Cup runs, in order to get some underused players some playing time.
With that shift in priorities seemingly comes a shift in fan attitudes towards player acquisition and development. Where once a fan might have been happy to see how Young Kid develops, now fans of the bigger clubs see nothing but the holy grail of a Top Three Finish, and if that is not achieved, then the season has been a failure. Arsenal, rightly or wrongly, have been much-criticized lately for not "splashing the cash", not getting in on the sweepstakes for the biggest names of a transfer window, and instead "panic buying" at the last minute last August, making it look like they didn't have a plan in place. Arsenal finished third this season, and now a not-insignificant part of the fan base wants Arsenal to be in on the action this summer, and to sign big names to big contracts.
But I am of a slightly different mindset. I want Arsenal to do what they've always done - find undervalued assets and develop them. Unlike previous years, though, I don't believe those assets are necessarily all 18 year old wing players; I believe that Arsenal can continue what they've done so well in past years, and let the big boys fight over the Hazards and Hulks and then quietly sign the next generation of Fabregas, van Persie, and the like. Or, to put it in alcohol terms, I feel like Arsenal should let the big boys fight over and overpay for the one bottle of Samuel Adams Utopia available, and then swoop in under their noses and buy up all the Smuttynose Old Brown Dog they can find.
So what's your opinion? Should Arsenal be players in the top-shelf liquor market, or should they stay down there on the second shelf?