It was hard not to feel sorry for Mikel Arteta as he made his way along the line of TV broadcasters for a succession of post-match interviews in the aftermath of Arsenal’s humiliating 5-0 defeat by Manchester City.
Hands in pockets, expressionless, on the back foot – what could he say when his team had just lost to City by a bigger margin than they had ever done before, when his team had been let down by one of its most experienced players, when they were, at that point, bottom of the Premier League, with no goals and no points from their first three games?
“Yes I do,” he said, when asked if he could still get results from his current group of players. “If not I wouldn’t be sitting here.”
The 39-year-old retains the faith of the Gunners’ hierarchy and they still believe Arteta’s young team will develop. The plan has been set out and they intend to stick to it.
Yet faith can only stretch so far when your captain says: “I blame us as a team because it wasn’t enough.”
Speaking to BT Sport immediately after the game, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang added: “Against City, you have to take risks and be brave on the ball. We weren’t. Everyone has to raise the level and look at themselves in the mirror.”
When told of this, Arteta replied: “If he feels that, I completely agree. They are on the pitch and have feelings that no-one else can have so if that is the case that is good.”
Arteta cannot say Arsenal have failed to back him in the transfer market this summer.
Even with the fee for Cristiano Ronaldo added onto Manchester United’s transfer spend, Arsenal are still the biggest spenders.
Yet against City, of the new signings, only midfielder Martin Odegaard started, after his return from Real Madrid. But the Norwegian, who spent the second half of last season on loan at the Gunners, made little impression.
Once England defender Ben White is available following his positive Covid test, that should improve Arsenal’s defence. Yet they were so poor, it is difficult to see how a single individual can trigger meaningful change.
Further forward, Emile Smith-Rowe and Bukayo Saka looked what they are, boys trying to battle against experienced professionals and – understandably – coming off second-best.
Arteta is being let down by senior players, whether that is Granit Xhaka and his needless red card, Mohamed Elneny turning his back on Rodri’s goal-bound shot or Aubameyang doing little to make any impact on proceedings.
The problem for Arteta is that patience runs out eventually – and one manager is always more at risk than a squad of players.
“I always said I am more critical of myself and take the blame every single time, not only when we had defeats,” he said.
“I question myself and I try to have the right people around me. I look at every decision I make and change it if I think we should have done something differently.”
Arsenal’s present predicament can be placed to one side because of the joint issue of a difficult fixture list and various selection issues.
However, the size of the club he is in charge of means Arteta cannot avoid the glare indefinitely.
There were words of encouragement from City boss Pep Guardiola, who Arteta worked under in his coaching team at Etihad Stadium.
“Arteta knows how I love him. People want results right away,” said Guardiola.
“I know his awareness as a manager and as a leader, the moment everyone is back he will do an excellent job. I know this because I know him, I know the job he can do.”
Arsenal replaced Norwich City at the bottom of the league and, as as luck would have it, the pair meet at Emirates Stadium immediately after the international break before the Gunners head to Burnley.
Tottenham and Brighton follow on from those two games before a second international break.
If Arsenal’s situation has not improved by then, expect the criticism of Arteta to be much louder – and defending him might not be quite so easy.