Arsenal's chairman, Peter Hill-Wood, came out today and said that Arsenal "can't spend £50 million on one player" and has effectively conceded the elite players on the transfer market to the oil- and oligarch-money backed teams. He did, however, reiterate his faith in Arsene Wenger, and seemed to express patience and a willingness to let Arsene be Arsene.
So why did Hill-Wood's statement feel a bit like a surrender?
I have been very vocal on these pages about my support for the sustainable way of running a club. It's not as extreme for me as "I'd rather make a profit than win things", because as with pretty much everything in life, it's not that simple. I want Arsenal, and any team in any sport I follow, to be realistic contenders for honors; what I don't expect is that the people running the club will say "damn the expense, BUY BUY BUY I DON'T CARE WHO" in an effort to get there.
Hire smart people, get them all singing off the same songsheet, give them enough data to make smart choices, and let them do their jobs. That's what Arsenal have done under Wenger, and it's worked pretty damn well so far, and I have seen nothing - not the Cesc departure, not RvP leaving, nothing - that can shake my overall faith in the Arsenal way of running a club.
But still, to hear someone as high in the club as Hill-Wood come out and effectively wave the white flag, to say "sorry, Cristiano Ronaldo, I know you're not happy at Real Madrid right now but we won't ever pay £65 million in transfer fees and £150,000 a week for you or for a player of your caliber" feels like Arsenal are giving up, even just a bit, because what it sounds like to me is that exceptions will not be made. I'm not suggesting that Ronaldo's available, or will be; I'm just using him as an example.
There are only a very few players in any sport that are worth a team making an exception from their usual way of building a team for - hell, MLS even created a roster-construction rule around one of them - but when those players become available, I would love to think that Arsenal will be in the running for their signatures if the player is the right fit.
To be clear, I don't think that Arsenal should be breaking the bank for any and every "big name player" every single transfer window, because there's a huge difference between a big name player and an elite player; this transfer window alone, among the "big names" were names like Eden Hazard and Hulk, who are definitely big names but are nowhere near elite status just yet, and in my view were paid (and assigned transfer fees) that are out of line with their accomplishments in the game.
That is the kind of annual bidding war I'm glad Arsenal isn't in, because it leads to very bad financial things, and I will continue to support Arsenal having an upper bound on what they'll offer and pay for good-yet-not-elite players like that. When an elite, CR-level player becomes available, though, I would love to think that Arsenal are right there trying to sign that player, and from Hill-Wood's comments, I don't think that's going to happen any time soon (and for the record, I'm not convinced RvP is an elite-level player; two more seasons like last year and he'll be in the conversation but not right now).
Arsenal have money. Lots of money. With next year's TV windfall, they'll have lots more, and once those famoulsy undervalued sponsorships get renegotiated, well, you know the scene of Augustus Gloop sucking up as much of the chocolate river as his fat grubby hands could shovel towards his face? Yep. That much money. That doesn't, however, mean that Arsenal need to spend it all every year in the annual arms race, and I'm glad that they seem to want to stay prudent every transfer window, rather than paying over their valuation for a player. I don't want Arsenal sucked up a pipe because they got greedy, because Oompa Loompas creep me out and I don't want them running around the Emirates singing about financial responsibility.
I am a big fan of the Cazorla transfer, and I think that's the type of player Arsenal should be pursuing regularly. I also think that's the kind of player a club like Arsenal will be regularly able to attract to the club without a whole lot of convincing, which makes it a pretty ideal type of transfer. If they make a few moves like that every summer, as they did this summer, Arsenal will be in good shape regardless of who leaves.
Still, it seems like a door has been closed at Arsenal today; maybe that door was always privately closed, but now it's been closed for good. I hope nothing valuable got locked in the closet behind it.