Arsene Wenger has responded to criticism of Arsenal’s leaky defence by giving his backing to Per Mertesacker and Calum Chambers.
Mertesacker has been under fire since Sunday’s 2-2 Premier League draw with Liverpool for ducking as Martin Skrtel nodded home the equaliser deep into injury-time at Anfield.
Jamie Redknapp and Ian Wright are among those to have condemned Mertesacker, but Wenger has absolved the former Germany centre-back of blame and insists his form does not justify the scrutiny he has faced.
“I don’t know (why he ducked). Maybe because he sees he hasn’t got the ball and somebody jumps over him and it’s a reflex. But I don’t think he could have got the ball,” Wenger said.
“I believe he’s on the way up. He had a difficult start to the season but he’s been much sharper. Sometimes people are after you just that moment where you are not at your worst.
“He has to get over that (being criticised). Many people had a go at him for the corner but I looked at it and he had no chance to get that ball in the zone where he was.”
Wenger admits 19-year-old Calum Chambers, signed during the summer as a right-back who can cover centre-back, has been overplayed due to the injury crisis in Arsenal’s ranks.
“For a 19-year-old, he has played too many games. They all hit the wall after 15 to 17 games. You have to give them a breather, let them refresh and get them back again.
“To have that responsibility in every single game is a lot for a player of that age.”
Wenger expects Arsenal’s defence to stabilise soon, with Mathieu Debuchy continuing to find his feet after a three-month absence with an ankle injury and Laurent Koscielny due back imminently from a calf complaint.
“When Koscielny comes back and Debuchy being back, we will be more stable. Even in midfield we need to get our players back from injury and to defend better there as well,” Wenger said.
“We had no stability at the back and when you look at the number of players who played centre-back this season, it’s not easy.”
Wenger, meanwhile, has vowed Arsenal will empty the tank in the second half of the season as they seek to climb the Premier League
The Christmas schedule features fixtures against QPR, West Ham and Southampton and Wenger believes Arsenal, who occupy sixth place in the Premier League, will soon be in a position to realise their potential.
“To give absolutely everything in every single game until the end of the season,” replied Wenger when asked to outline his aspirations for his team heading into the festive period.
“I believe that with the injuries coming back, we will have a much stronger squad than we had for the past two months.
“I believe 2015 can be very exciting if we manage to get our injured players back and have a good run.
“Finishing in the top four is always the minimum required here. We have the Champions League and we have the FA Cup and we want to come back in a much stronger position in the Premier League, and I think we will.”