Well, most top tier distros give you all of the flexibility to make the desktop (or server) as you see fit. It's all about what you're used to, and what features and tweaks the distro maintainers do to the entire (GNU/)Linux stack. Also, it's about how much the distro does for you out of the box, and how much handholding you require.
Personally I've gone from Slackware, to Gentoo (after trying LFS once, and failing), ran screaming to Ubuntu, and then settled on Debian for a long time before giving Arch a try. I'd say Arch is somewhere between Gentoo and Debian. All three have great package management toolchains, and Arch gives you all the flexibility of Gentoo without all the maddening compilation issues. Also, Arch seems less fragile in terms of updates breaking than Gentoo. Debian (at least stable branches) is the king of package stability, IMO.
It all depends on what your requirements are, what you intend to use the system as. Need a quick desktop, with tried-and-true (if a little old) packages? Debian is what I'd recommend. Want to learn about your system, while having great package management and up-to-date packages, but don't want to worry about compiling everything from scratch? Arch is the way to go. Want to learn about how Linux is built, from the hardware and its drivers to all the software tweaks eking possibly the best performance? Gentoo may be for you.
But then again, I'm no longer a Gentoo fan because was too much of a pain to know whether whatever tweaks you were making actually improved the performance above 2 percent.