Gunners boss says his stars know they let the club down in the fight for top-four spot but he defends under-fire Hector Bellerin
ARSENE WENGER wants Arsenal’s fans to back his under-performing side at Middlesbrough.
The Gunners face a major battle to finish in the top four after last Monday’s 3-0 thumping by Crystal Palace.
Boss Wenger and his players have faced the wrath of their fed-up fans following that humiliation.
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But the Frenchman said: “The players are focused and want to respond.
“They accept completely we were not at the level.
“The way we respond on the pitch will decide the attitude of the fans but it’s a good period to be united and not divided.
“Historically, Arsenal has been about that. One of our values is to be together — and there’s no better period than now to show it.”
Full-back Hector Bellerin bore the brunt of the supporters’ abuse at Palace with chants of ‘You’re not fit to wear the shirt’.
At 3-0 down, Gooners who had seen enough REFUSED to throw the ball back to him after it went out for a throw-in.
Spaniard Bellerin suffered an ankle injury in November after a tackle by Danny Rose during the derby with Spurs.
And Wenger, himself under-fire from a section of supporters who want him to go at the end of the season, admitted: “He has not come back to his level since he has been injured.
“I think it’s unfair the fans turned on him. He is a guy who is genuinely Arsenal and wants to do well.
“He has been ready to play with pain.
“His ankle has healed but I think for a while the injury affected him.
“You get bad habits and you forget your job is firstly to defend and win challenges because you protect yourself a little bit.
“I agree that for a while he was not the Hector Bellerin we had seen at the start of the season.”
Wenger is yet to make decision about his own future amid mounting uncertainty over whether a new two-year contract remains feasible.
He claimed last month he would make a decision “soon” but there is a growing feeling that he wants to fight on and inspire Arsenal from the biggest crisis of his tenure, making any early announcement tricky.
It leaves his 21 year spell at the club largely hinging on the last eight Premier League games of the season and an FA Cup semi-final against Manchester City next weekend.
Should they win that match a final against Chelsea or Spurs would await and a chance to end the season with Wenger winning an all-time record seventh FA Cup.
Arsenal also delayed the announcement of a new contract for Wenger in 2014 until after that season’s FA Cup final.
Wenger, whose team face a battle now to make the top four, said: “It is a massive challenge.
“We might get there, we might not get there, but the only thing to get there is to believe we can do it and that’s what we have to focus on.
“During this spell I’ve given myself the same message I give to the players: get better.
Wenger himself admits: “I don’t switch off too much. I focus on doing well what I can do. I’ve learned to focus on what I think I can influence and what is important. I get in a little bubble and just focus on what I think is important.
“I don’t worry too much what people say even if I respect the opinions of everybody. I have to dedicate my energy to be efficient.
“It’s not been very enjoyable here recently as you certainly know, but bad moments are part of our job as well. You focus to prepare and make sure you respond in a strong way in your next game.
“One day I’ll explain why I haven’t announced my decision (to stay or not) now. I don’t think at the moment that the debate should be that. We have to focus on the next game. At the moment we have other priorities and the priorities are to focus on the game against Middlesborough.”