Wenger facing crucial 10 days
Arsene Wenger's body language could have been set to a sombre musical soundtrack as he suffered an increasingly familiar fate. It did not just rain on Arsenal's manager at Emirates Stadium, it poured.
As Wenger ruffled his hands furiously through hair soaked by a torrential downpour, then lurched forward in frustration in his seat as Liverpool concluded their first win at Arsenal in 11 years, an inescapable conclusion was reached.
Wenger now faces 10 days that may not exactly define his future, but which have the capacity to shape the mood of an entire season for an increasingly depleted Arsenal squad and their manager.
Arsenal face a hazardous Champions League qualifier second leg against Udinese in Italy on Wednesday before travelling to face champions Manchester United at Old Trafford next Sunday. And then, with great significance and a reason for Wenger to act with an urgency that has escaped him this summer, the transfer window will close.
This was always shaping up as the most testing season of Wenger's Arsenal tenure. This defeat, and the loud jeering that preceded sympathetic applause at the final whistle, did nothing to alter the impression.
Liverpool, with a £100m injection of new talent and Kenny Dalglish back in charge, have emerged as the most potent threat to a place in the Premier League's top four that Arsenal have called their own on an almost permanent basis.
And if Liverpool's 2-0 win, secured by a late own goal from Aaron Ramsey and a second in the dying seconds from Luis Suarez, is a signpost to the future then Arsenal and Wenger have the rest of August to ensure they are heading in the same direction as the men from Merseyside.
Wenger rightly quoted mitigating circumstances for the defeat. Jack Wilshere was injured, Alex Song and Gervinho suspended, Laurent Koscielny lasted only 15 minutes before a back spasm and the impressive but impulsive Emmanuel Frimpong was sent off with 20 minutes left.
And in the moment Frimpong received his second yellow card for an unwise launch at Lucas, Dalglish ruthlessly took the opportunity to demonstrate how Arsenal are seriously threatened by a shift in the balance of power in that battle for fourth place.
Wenger cut a forlorn figure on the touchline as his side crashed to a 2-0 home defeat. Photo: Getty
He sent on Suarez and Raul Meireles, instrumental in both goals, while Wenger was left to rely on his mix and match blend from a squad he has simply allowed to become too weak. They were riches beyond Wenger's reach and how it showed.
Liverpool's victory was built on efficiency rather than sparkle, but they looked like a team that had been subjected to serious investment while Arsenal's resources looked threadbare, lightweight and in need of having some hard cash lavished on them.
Yes, Arsenal were unlucky as Wenger insisted both goals had a hint of offside, but he must not use this as a shield against stark reality.
The current Arsenal squad is not of the quality required to maintain the standards Wenger's own brilliance as a manager have set and time is running out to find the remedy.
Samir Nasri, still likely to leave for Manchester City, was one of Arsenal's brighter performers while Robin van Persie and Theo Walcott were either starved of service or poor when they received any.
Wenger also had a point when he underlined the crisis mentality being inflicted on Arsenal, saying: "We are living in circumstances where every defeat is absolutely a disgrace and an earthquake."
There is no suggestion the foundations of Arsenal's empire are shifting under Wenger's feet, but there is no escaping the increasing sense of desperation and anxiety around the vast Emirates' concourses. Not an earthquake, but certainly tremors of anxiety.
The irony is that enough class lurks around Arsenal's squad to give Wenger room for manoeuvre and optimism if he finally brings in reinforcements, but he has left it horribly, mystifyingly late to do so.
Dalglish's has given Liverpool reinvigorated hopes of finishing in the top four. Photo: Getty
For Liverpool, it was a game that will have confirmed their sense that they can get back in the top four. It was not a classic performance but it had a solidity that bodes well and was in sharp contrast to many of their efforts on their travels in recent years.
Dalglish relished pointing out how much stronger Liverpool's squad was than last season - as indeed it should be given the money spent on it.
The catalyst, however, is Suarez. The credits were rolling for Arsenal as soon as he appeared. Full of movement - not movement for movement's sake but going into areas defenders do not appreciate - and menace, he unsettled Arsenal's makeshift defence instantly.
As Suarez tapped in a simple second, the rejuvenated Dalglish danced with delight on to the touchline and pumped his fists towards Liverpool's fans while Wenger slumped forward in despair as Arsenal's supporters made a bolt for the exits.
It was an image that summed up the afternoon. Wenger now has a matter of days to change the mood music.