Arsene Wenger comes to the defence of hapless Arsenal centre-back Per Mertesacker

Mertesacker was criticised for his performance at Anfield on Sunday

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The Independent Online

Arsène Wenger has given his support to Per Mertesacker, saying the German centre-half has suffered from not having a settled defensive line-up playing alongside him every week.

Arsenal often seem to have at least one problem position and, heading into the Boxing Day game against Queen’s Park Rangers, it is at centre-back. They began the season with just two. One of them, Laurent Koscielny, has been struggling with an Achilles injury and has not played since the 1-0 win over Southampton, three weeks ago. Wenger said he had “maybe a chance” of returning against West Ham on Sunday.

Until Koscielny does return – or someone arrives in the transfer window – Wenger has to continue looking for alternative partners for Mertesacker. He has used Nacho Monreal, Calum Chambers and Mathieu Debuchy in that problem position. Debuchy looked competent in the role against Liverpool, after Wenger decided that Chambers needed some time away from the high-pressure environment that is centre-half.

Mertesacker was criticised for his performance at Anfield on Sunday, when a poor Arsenal defensive display led to a  2-2 draw that might have been worse. Wenger, though, came to Mertesacker’s  defence, saying that it was difficult while his partners kept changing.

“It’s not easy for Mertesacker,” Wenger said. “When Koscielny comes back, and with Debuchy being back, we will be more stable. Even in midfield we need as well to get our players back and to defend better.

 

“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.”

Mertesacker admitted in October that the start of this season had been difficult as he struggled to refocus after winning the World Cup in July. “I believe he’s on the way up,” Wenger said. “He had a difficult start to the season but he’s been much sharper.”

Wenger trusted Debuchy rather than Chambers at centre-back on Sunday, and that is what he is likely to do again on Boxing Day. After an impressive start to his Arsenal career, Chambers has struggled for form recently, especially in away games against Chelsea, Swansea City and Stoke City.

Wenger admitted he had been reluctant to expose him at centre-back, opting to give the teenager a slightly less onerous role at full-back. Chambers does not turn 20 until January and Wenger knows that his development needs to be managed.

“For a 19-year-old player, he has played too many games,” Wenger admitted. “They all hit the wall after 15, 17 games. You have to give them a breather, refresh and get them back again. And at the moment, to have that responsibility in every single game is a lot on a player of that age.”

What this means is that until Koscielny returns, Debuchy is likely to stay at centre-back instead of Chambers. “Debuchy is a defender of experience and the experience sometimes just in one movement can make a difference,” Wenger said. “The defensive responsibility is a bit less on the flank.”

Whether Chambers plays at right-back at all on Boxing Day is not clear. Hector Bellerin is still a doubt after injury although Wenger, with the rare luxury of having both Kieran Gibbs and Nacho Monreal fit, could play one of them on their weaker side.

Theo Walcott is “not far” from a return while Wenger expects Mikel Arteta, Mesut Özil and Aaron Ramsey back in the new year. Wenger  said that Ramsey “has a chance” to face Southampton on New Year’s Day but he is likelier to return one week after that.

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