31 August 2015

Losing my religion as the window slams shut...

By this point, we've learned that Christian Benteke is worth £32.5m, Roberto Firmino is worth £28.7m, Raheem Sterling is worth £43.75m, Kevin de Bruyne is worth £52.5m, and Anthony Martial is worth £36m. Each of these players is by turns full of potential and capable of a purple patch or two over the course of a season, but what does it tell us that "potential" is priced so high? These transfer fees used to be reserved for the likes of players who had already established themselves as world class. What am I or any of us to believe as we count down the waning hours of the summer transfer window? What price would we have to pay to actually upgrade our squad?

For comparison's sake, let's look at what we paid for one of our most-maligned players: Olivier Giroud. In the summer of 2012, we signed Giroud for a transfer-fee of £8.4m. While admitting that inflation will undermine a direct apples-to-apples comparison, it's striking to see that the market for strikers has become such a seller's market that Benteke was sold for almost four times the fee that Giroud commanded. Is he four times better? Is he even twice as good? The answer to each of those hypotheticals has got to be a resounding no

I don't know what to believe anymore, to be honest. We're clamouring for another signing, and while it's true that we need an upgrade, it feels as if we've failed to learn a lesson two. Witness Man U, Liverpool, and Tottenham, each of whom has lavished transfer-fees hither and yon in a manner that would embarrass drunken sailors. What does any of them have to show for it? Less than nothing, as each club has struggled to bed in its new signings or win silverware. There's something to be said for consistency, chemistry, and vision. Despite the examples on offer from Chelsea and Man City, there's more to building a winning tradition than simply hoarding talents. If anything, one has to ask whether those clubs have gotten their money's worth—why aren't they winning almost everything on offer, every season? Do they not have the depth and quality to win the League Cup, FA Cup, and Prem while lasting a bit longer a bit more often in the Champions League? Hell, if anything, if I was a supporter of either of these two clubs, I'd be furious at our futility.
At a risk of getting hyperbolic, Chelsea, Man City, and Man U are like crackheads, fiending desperately for that next quick-fix only to forget it moments later once the initial rush fades. The downside to this simile is that Arsenal, by contrast, appears to be the teetotaller who never touches anything at any price. While that comparison might win on moral grounds, it offers nothing by way of material grounds, and this is, after all, a sport that masquerades as a religion. As such, a club like Arsenal does have to striker a balance between the two rather than continually parading its moral superiority when presented with other clubs' material excesses.

This is not to say that we should go on a spending spree that puts our rivals to shame. We do know that we need reinforcements, if not out-and-out upgrades. Giroud is our only "true" striker, and we know from last season that he can't endure the batterings he incurs while also offering the finishing we need. Coquelin delivered a nifty little purple patch in the second half of last season—but his replacements are the ever-ageing and ossifying Arteta and Flamini. I don't think we can count on an upgrade at both positions. Maybe reinforcing one or the other is the best we can pray for?