ARSENE WENGER has told Arsenal’s angry fans to lay off fall guy Hector Bellerin – and revealed that the Spaniard has been playing through the pain barrier.

Arsene Wenger urges Arsenal fans to stop criticising this star: Why he is struggling

The full-back was the main target for Arsenal fans infuriated at last Monday’s 3-0 defeat at Crystal Palace, with the club’s previously loyal travelling support also losing patience and calling for Wenger to go.

The Gunners will not take any decision on his future until the end of the season and the manager is intent on signing the new two-year deal which is on the table for him.

But apart from Wenger, it was Bellerin, 22, who took the brunt of the frustration at Selhurst Park. At one point his own fans refused to give him the ball back for an Arsenal throw in as they sang “You’re not fit to wear the shirt”.

And at the end of the match, as he went to applaud the fans, he received such abuse that he had to be consoled by Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.

But Wenger revealed that Bellerin had up until very recently been feeling the effects of the ankle injury he picked up in November that kept him out for a month.

“It was unfair from the fans, as he a guy who is genuinely Arsenal and wants to do well,” said Wenger. “He is ready to play with pain. “I think for a while he has been feeling the ankle. Then you get bad habits and you forget that your job first is to defend and win challenges, because you protect yourself a little bit.”

On Monday, Arsenal play their first game since the debacle at Selhurst Park as they face struggling Middlesbrough at the Riverside Stadium – and Wenger knows that a win is vital to at least temporarily stem the rising tide of anger at the collapse of Arsenal’s season.

“The players are focused, conscious that they want to respond and accept completely that we were not at the level,” he said. “The fans love the club. It’s a good period to be united and not divided.”

Middlesbrough boss Steve Agnew, meanwhile, wants his side to be this season’s great escapologists.

Boro’s head coach has seen two of his former clubs, Sunderland and Leicester, defy the odds to avoid relegation in previous years, now he wants Boro to follow in their footsteps.

To achieve his unlikely goal, his goal-shy side will have to win as many games in the next month as they have throughout the campaign.

“That win we’ve been waiting for can literally change a lot of things and affect other teams as well,” said Agnew.

“It has happened in recent seasons with Sunderland and Leicester so why not us?”

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