Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has jumped to the defence of his right-back Hector Bellerin, claiming that he is ‘protecting’ himself after injuries.

Wenger, as quoted by the Telegraph, spoke of how Bellerin is still not mentally applied after his long spell on the sidelines with an ankle injury, and does not want to get hurt in matches.

He has not come back to his level since he has been injured. You get bad habits and you forget that your job first is to defend and win challenges because you protect yourself a little bit.

The Spaniard hasn’t been anywhere near as good as he is capable of this season and has come under a lot of criticism from the Arsenal faithful in recent times.

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Then you realise you have to come back and I think now he is trying to focus again on what is ­important, to defend well and after he can give us that extra bit that is important as well.

Bellerin is still looking to be slightly out of touch off the back of the injury and has not been as effervescent as he was prior to his ankle problems.

He is a guy who is genuinely ­Arsenal and wants to do well. He is ready to play with pain. Like all the players, they are focused, conscious that they want to respond and ­accept completely that we were not at the level.

However, Wenger will be hoping that his 22-year-old right-back can get back into the swing of things tomorrow night when Arsenal take the trip to the Riverside Stadium to take on Middlesbrough in what can only be described as a must-win fixture.