By Chris Harris
Arsène Wenger says this is no time to lose faith in the players he has spent so long developing.
The Arsenal manager and his players have come under fire this week after slipping seven points behind Manchester United in the title race - the final trophy on their radar after defeats in the Carling Cup, FA Cup and Champions League.
Various pundits have had their say on Arsenal's perceived shortcomings but Wenger gave a robust response at his pre-match press conference on Friday. The Frenchman backed his squad, suggesting that critics do not appreciate how much his team has achieved despite their tender years.
"This team is 23. When we played against Barcelona, they were 27 and a half," said Wenger.
"It is important we realise this team is absolutely amazing for what they do at their age. One day people will understand that, but at the moment, I am not sure many people do.
"How old is Wilshere? Nineteen. It looks like in England you cannot play without him. How old is Fabregas? How old is Nasri? Now it is a crucial moment where we have to trust these players and not listen to opinions of people who have not worked half a day in football."
Wenger has chosen a different path in recent years to super-rich rivals Manchester City and Chelsea - one that involves identifying and nurturing young talent. He offered a staunch defence of his methods ahead of the Blackpool game.
"Do you know how much work and dedication is behind a team like that?" asked Wenger. "How much mental strength is behind a team like that?
We are in a strong position.
"They have not been built just like that, it is a real process of club work, coaching work - that is not just to go out and buy a player for X amount of money. What is hard in football is to build a team and work with the players every day."Copyright 2017 The Arsenal Football Club plc. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.arsenal.com as the source