Ten Percent Short

Draws with Liverpool, at Sp*rs, and an away loss to Bolton have essentially ended Arsenal’s title push, leaving the to club – and more importantly the fans – without a trophy to celebrate for the seventh year running.

Arsenal’s efforts in the last three games summed up the season well: “Good, but not good enough.” The team tried hard, as Wenger constantly professes, but the “trying hard” of our squad really pales to that of teams like Man’ United, who win a ton of points late in games, or relegation battlers like Birmingham and Stoke, who’s players often times look as if they were fighting for their lives. I don’t doubt that Arsenal’s players would have loved to win a trophy, and they’ve given us a great season of football overall, but I believe the current players are really lacking that extra 10% in the “give 110%” equation that equals a major championship.

Up at Liverpool by a soft-yet-fair penalty after 100+ minutes of regular time, you’d think Arsenal would shut up shop and take a hugely important 3 points. Instead, we frantically defended – if you can even call it that – for 30 seconds while a tenacious Liverpool side fought back for a cheeky equaliser on another weak penalty decision. The player who scored that penalty? Dirk Kuyt, the embodiment of a player who gives 110%. Quite symbolic, really.

Newcastle handed us another big break by drawing with United, but we could only do so much as to cough up another two goal lead at our hated rivals, losing two more points in the title race. I think many Arsenal fans going into that game would have gladly took a win at Sp*rs as some consolation to a fading title challenge. Yet, the players and manager failed to deliver that, and another never-say-die team’s extra effort saw them come back for the 3-3 result.

I’m not even going to mention the pathetic 4-4 draw at St James as another clear-cut example. What I will mention however is the game at the Reebok, which has seen us sink to third in the EPL hunt and become a distant memory to the front-runners in Manchester.

At Bolton we had a healthy side who had no other objective than three points. We conceded two as a result of defensive breakdowns in the form of schoolboy-quality man-marking, and our only breakthrough was thanks to a clean finish from Walcott. Throughout the game, we once again saw the same old flaws; weak defending, a lack of creativity against a stubborn opposition, piss poor crossing met by absolutely no one who could capitalize on a header, and frequently missed opportunities that were there for the taking (Nasri twice, Walcott). Szczesny did well to save a lame shot from Davies on the spot, and our equaliser which followed shortly showed a glimpse of the team’s occasional killer instinct, but by 60 minutes – when Arsene shockingly changed tactics for once, to his credit – it looked like it was going to be another dull, toothless display of Arsenal’s recent goal-scoring form. And surely it was, culminating in a counterattack that lead to a 2-1 loss against the run of play.

Wenger said recently “The team have had an outstanding attitude and will not be rewarded because of small things, but small things cost you. It is frustrating because the team has produced the efforts.” (SportingLife)

Do I agree? Absolutely. But many of those “small things” are inexcusable: they’re the result of poor management and player performances. I do not want to elaborate because I’d rather summarize the 2010-2011 campaign in another post, but the overall theme is a lot of people not doing their part.

The whole point here is heart, passion, that 10% of performance that doesn’t appear in statistics, on the stopwatch or in fitness tests. It’s that downright desire to win at all costs, to shoulder the responsibility of victory on your back and give everything you have. Jack Wilshere has it in spades… but who else on Arsenal does? There are some hardworking, passionate guys, and I realize that not everyone is as lionhearted as Super Jack. But, we could definitely use the the kind of passion Vieira had over say Song or Diaby. The strength of will that made Arsenal’s back-4 a legendary bastion that protected the sacred goal. The heart and desire that helped Bastin, Wright and Henry all to over one hundred tallies.

Wenger loves his team, and supports them to the end, but I just don’t see as much character in the team as he does. It’s hard to support a team that seems to frequently give up on itself, whether it’s during a game or before the kick-off. I hate to see the kind of forlorn look on players that hints to a result before the final whistle, and even worse I hate to see it in the play of those players… and I feel we’ve been guilty of that as early as the Carling Cup exit. 

It’s that extra 10% that is going to result in either Manchester United winning their 19th title, or Chelsea upsetting them to continue their reign as Premier League titleholders. And it kills me to say it, being a supporter of a club in which that 10% is embedded so deeply in history.

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