Every loss Arsenal suffered last season carried a little extra weight. The Gunners were on the losing side 13 times – their joint-most in a Premier League campaign – and after each of those defeats there was a recurring theme: rival fans reacted with added glee knowing the anguish they had inflicted would have to be relived, while Arsenal supporters made a mental note of another episode of All or Nothing they would have to fast-forward or watch through gritted teeth.
The Amazon Prime Video series returns on Thursday with the first three episodes of a nine-part series, this time tracking a campaign that offered plenty of promise and progress but which was bookended by calamity and despair. Fortunately for Arsenal fans – and unfortunately for those expecting carnage and chaos, the footballing equivalent of disaster porn – it is those shoots of optimism that All or Nothing has chosen to focus on. Less melodrama, more mellowed drama.
It is immediate very early on that Amazon sees its subject as the underdog, a club that is a work in progress, and that is the prism through which it treats Arsenal’s setbacks and failures. In the first eight minutes alone the word ‘young’ is mentioned six times, either in reference to manager Mikel Arteta or his team – which actually boasts over 500 international caps – while that tally hits double figures long before the first episode is over.
Three back-to-back loses at the start of the season against Brentford, Chelsea and Manchester City are dealt with in the first half-hour and there is little behind-the-scenes fall-out or recriminations. Josh Kroenke offers some support to Arteta during a canteen chat, but the only real histrionics come from the riled fans being interviewed. While there may have been a lot of external noise, internally things are less apocalyptic.
What follows is a rather drama-less look at Arteta’s attempts to stop this perceived slide during what ultimately was a largely middling season; in a show about extremes, this All or Nothing does not really hit either brief. Similarly, like other iterations of the series, there is a limit to the detail Arsenal are prepared to show. There are motivational team talks, discussions about the manager’s philosophy and interesting player profiles but real insight into coaching methods and any semblance of conflict are absent. For now, at least.
There are some lighter moments that Arsenal fans will certainly enjoy, from the players discussing going IKEA shopping with their parents to Bukayo Saka extolling the virtues of a day out at Thorpe Park, not to mention Aaron Ramsdale’s larger-than-life, scene-stealing dad – and his curious choice of headwear.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the show is the portrait it paints of Arteta, whose methods occasionally threaten to stray into Brendan Rodgers levels of cringe territory without going quite as far as putting names in envelopes.
Before the first north London derby, which Arsenal won 3-1, he had the club’s long-serving photographer Stuart MacFarlane give the team talk. Another pre-match gimmick sees him drawing pictures as he tries to get his side to play with intensity and heart, like a Pictionary version of John Sitton. Before facing Liverpool, he set up speakers to pump out ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ on the training pitches. They lost 4-0.
He even has all the players form a circle, close their eyes and rub their hands together furiously before an away match against Leicester. Interestingly, skipper Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang later sends up his manager’s Tony Robbins-esque speech, prompting laughter and the middle finger from Arteta. Yet, given that he would strip his captain of the armband just six weeks later, perhaps there was more to this moment of frivolity than first meets the eye.
Arteta certainly comes across more human and passionate than the often cold and emotionless figure he portrays in the media – always seeming to be suspicious of getting caught out by the press as he attempts to give away as little as possible – but the documentary may do little to win over his doubters and might even raise questions over what happens when his gimmicks run out or become tiresome.
The series, and its refusal to indulge in the painful moments of Arsenal’s season, is perhaps best summed up by Arteta’s reaction to losing 2-1 against Everton at Goodison Park – a game they had led at half-time but were ultimately undone by a 92nd-minute winner from Demarai Gray, which promptly saw ‘All or Nothing’ trending on Twitter.
Aside from a livid Ramsdale, there is little reaction in the dressing room and Arteta does not unleash the hairdryer treatment. ‘I prefer not to say much,’ he tells the squad before walking off and leaving them in silence. The show as a whole takes a similar approach. For Arsenal fans that is perhaps no bad thing, but others will be hoping the final episodes – and away days to Tottenham and Newcastle – provide the entertainment and fireworks they had been expecting.
The first three episodes of Amazon Prime Video’s All or Nothing: Arsenal series premiere on Thursday 4th August
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