All or Nothing: Arsenal – Takeaways and Review
Serving as a fascinating character study of some of the key figures behind the club’s ambitious rebuild, Amazon’s All or Nothing: Arsenal remains a sanitised peak behind the curtain that may underwhelm die-hards and tactics nerds. The fly-on-the-wall style docuseries captures the highs and lows of Arsenal’s 2021/2022 season, but while it showcases intriguing and often endearing personalities, it lacks the coaching insight that will have attracted the most Arsenal-obsessed fans.
“Tactically, he is top”: the words of technical director Edu when speaking about his manager over lunch at London Colney. In fact, that impression of Mikel Arteta seems to be widely shared within the club. Both Kieran Tierney and Bukayo Saka praise their manager’s insights, while Granit Xhaka goes a step further by calling him “a freak, but in a positive way”. Unfortunately, viewers of the show will have to take them at their word, as the pre-match material on show is limited to rousing speeches and motivational clichés. Trade secrets are understandably closely guarded, but the occasional nod to a pressing trap or an inverted full-back would have aroused the growing number of tactically-literate fans.
Nevertheless, Mikel Arteta remains the clear protagonist of the show, with much of the focus on his passionate team talks. What the series lacks in comprehensive tactical sessions, it makes up for in imaginative pre-match monologues. Arteta clearly puts great attention into finding cute new ways to continuously galvanise his team, in what can be a repetitive assignment week-in week-out.
Pre-Norwich, as the team is reeling from 3 early-season defeats, he evokes his childhood medical condition. He draws parallels between “high-performance teams” across industries, from emergency response teams to football clubs, and settles on their main similarity: a passion for what they do.
Before an eventual home defeat to high-flying Liverpool, Arteta writes the words “A Great Night” on his whiteboard, before embarking on a light-hearted anecdote about one his own great nights: the night he tried to approach his now-wife at a nightclub. The takeaway: to have great nights, even against all odds, you have to dig deep.
In the final moments before taking to the Emirates pitch for the North London Derby, Arteta calls on long-time club photographer Stuart MacFarlane to give the final team-talk. What follows is an emotional rallying cry by a much-loved behind-scenes figure. “This is my club, I f*****g love this football club. I f*****g love all of you. This is me, I’m a fan. This lot outside they would do anything to f*****g win today (…) When you score, look in their faces. Look at how much they love you and show them how much you love them.”
The manager’s inventive play worked wonders this time, as the players got off to a flying start and beat their rivals 3-1. At the final whistle, Arteta is seen enthusiastically pointing at MacFarlane as the two embrace.
The touching moments are aplenty throughout the series, as fan-favourite players and their families open up about the pressures that come with the profession. Ramsdale discusses tuning out the criticism of his move to Arsenal, while his exuberant parents are followed during his Premier League debut against Norwich. His nervy dad hilariously swears his way through the game.
Nuno Tavares, a player often derided for his errors by fans talks about his own inability to get past those mistakes; a powerful reminder that these players are human beings, and very young ones too. Carlos Cuesta, a 27-year old coach, comes off incredibly positively as he is seen giving players advice on personal development and overcoming mental blocks. Tierney opens up about the homesickness he suffered from when joining the club, and it is revealed that he lives with Arsenal chef and good friend Johnny McCallum, furthering the notion that the club does feel like one big family.
A long-standing member of that family is club doctor Gary O’Driscoll, who upon completing Aaron Ramsdale’s medical states: “By the end of today I’ll give you my number and any issues that you’ve got, or your partner has got, or whatever family, any issue at you give me a call and we’ll sort that out.”
The impression given of Arsenal is that while a culture of high performance and accountability has been created, the club does everything it can to support their own. Arteta has raised the standards, but simultaneously requires that the group protect whoever happens to fall below them. A not uncommon line spoken in the dressing room: “He made a mistake, now is your time to support.”
All or Nothing: Arsenal is heavy on personalities and broad (sometimes frustratingly broad) narratives. With the club in the middle of a complicated rebuilding project full of subtleties, Arsenal does not exactly lend itself well to the format of the show. They are neither All nor are they Nothing. The show’s tone struggles to find the nuance between the popular tropes of “look at these all conquering heroes” and “attention: chaotic dumpster fire”, and instead plays into very broad, and sometimes inaccurate, narratives of general discontent. Somewhat absurdly, a fan can be heard saying “2 years under this manager and we haven’t seen any major improvement. The fact is we can’t see the identity of the club. I’m not happy.” By two-thirds into last season, were any Arsenal fans actually thinking that?
While revealing of the characters that make up the fabric of the club, the docuseries remains firmly an entertainment program, and not a strict football one. The target audience is not Arsenal fans, but the wider public that needs clean storylines and magnetic personalities to stay interested. Did we really expect an Amazon show to delve into the intricacies of 2-3-5 build-ups, inverted fullbacks, and pressing traps? All or Nothing: Arsenal is a show about people, and what gets them ticking.