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All or Nothing – Arsenal: A show for supporters of the EPL football club, it takes a long route

Amazon Prime Video’s latest in the docu-series on English football clubs has its moments, but they are too few and far between.

August 04, 2022 / 01:25 PM IST
Coach Mikel Arteta, the 40-year-old former Arsenal midfielder, is the central character in this series. (Image: Youtube/Amazon Prime Video)

Coach Mikel Arteta, the 40-year-old former Arsenal midfielder, is the central character in this series. (Image: Youtube/Amazon Prime Video)

The 2021-22 English Premier League season did not begin well for the Arsenal football club. The team, once considered great, lost its first three matches (including a 0-5 drubbing to Manchester City) and faced the possibility of having the worst start to its league campaign in a century—four losses in a row.

That got averted against Norwich City, followed by an eight-match unbeaten streak, including a 3-1 win over their great north London rival Tottenham Hotspur, which took them to the top half of the points table. Then came a 0-4 loss at Anfield to Liverpool, heartbreak and back to the drawing board.

All or Nothing: Arsenal gives an inside view to these ups and downs of a professional football club, personal stories of footballers, behind-the-scenes conversations, negotiations and tribulations of a high stakes profession.

This latest series on Arsenal is part of Amazon Prime’s All or Nothing docu-series on sports clubs—previous ones include a number of American football teams, Premier League clubs Manchester City, Tottenham Hotspur, Italian Serie A’s Juventus and the Brazilian football team.

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The central character in this eight-episode series is coach Mikel Arteta, the 40-year-old former Arsenal midfielder who was playing for the team less than five years ago. He is relatively new to the managerial job, constantly under pressure to produce results, and brings his own quirky style to the “process” that he often talks of.

Before the game against Norwich, for example, Arteta tries to inspire the players by comparing sports teams with medical staff who save lives. He takes his own example as someone who needed heart surgery as a child, to make the point that high performance teams do what they do because they love it and see it as their purpose. Arsenal beat Norwich for their first win of the Premier League season.

If one is looking for clichés that are common to sports films, there are a few in this series as well. In one episode (out of the first three that Moneycontrol had access to before the series dropped on Prime), just before the game against the Spurs, dramatic music helps build a sense of dread for Arsenal before they take on their most significant rivals. Narrator and Arsenal supporter Daniel Kaluuya, better known for his roles in movies such as Get Out, Black Panther and most recently Judas & The Black Messiah, lowers his voice down to a slow purr.

On the dressing room white board, Arteta sketches out a heart and a brain, signifying passion and game smarts. He adds energy from the crowd—since the match is being played at Arsenal’s home ground—as the third element that will propel the team to greater deeds. In a surprise move, the manager gets a photographer, a long-time team loyalist, to give the players a pep talk.

(Image: YouTube/Amazon Prime Video) (Image: YouTube/Amazon Prime Video)

It all ends well as Arsenal win 3-1, with one of the goals scored by Bukayo Saka, his first in 20 games.

In the game before Leicester, the manager gets the players in a circle, asks them to close their eyes, visualise how they want the game to unfold and rub their hands. The tactic works here as well, as Arsenal beat Leicester City 2-0, which takes them to No. 5 on the points table.

Arteta’s inspirational talks, his one-liners (about how an old coach said players just are numbers, but for him they are people) delivered in a thick Spanish accent, his animated actions in the dressing room, his perfectly slicked back hair and his conflict with striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang make him a good centrepiece for the show. But the series also revolves around the younger, newer players in the team.

Goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale, Kieran Tierney, Martin Odegaard, and Emile Smith-Rowe among others are introduced through back stories. Most players profess how much they admire Arteta, his understanding of the game and how he helps the players with their own games. The character who is perhaps next in importance—in the show—is Saka, a 20-year-old earnest looking lad, whose parents immigrated from Nigeria, and is touted as one of England’s brightest talents.

For someone who is not a supporter of Arsenal, it’s difficult to understand what the purpose of the film is. Perhaps it works as a BTS (behind the scenes), gives some insight into the workings of a top professional club, shows us the challenges of managing players with king-sized ego as well as nervous newcomers, describes the drama leading up to each match, the cinematic pre-game speeches, the sleepless nights and tough decisions. For Arsenal fans, this is their ticket to the club, to get a sense of belonging, and an opportunity to live through the euphoria and turmoil of every win and defeat. Particularly for fans in India, who may not have watched a match at the Emirates or elsewhere in the UK, this also allows for a kinship with a faraway fellow supporter.

At an average run time of about 45 minutes—for the first three episodes at least—and with eight episodes in this season, this is a nine-hour investment for a team that has not won the Premier League in nearly two decades. They finished fifth in 2021-22, the season in which this docu-series is set. The filmmakers obviously could not have controlled the outcome of the Premier League, but the focus on Arsenal could have come from it being a team with the youngest set of players and manager, besides its rich history and past glory days.

The fly-on-the-wall camera captures some engaging moments, of players in the cafeteria, Arteta discussing a press conference with his team’s media manager, the players’ expressions through losses and victories. But All or Nothing: Arsenal still takes too long to get there, which makes it a show strictly for the die-hard supporter who, by the virtue of being an Arsenal supporter, is anyway used to disappointments.
Arun Janardhan is a Mumbai-based freelance writer-editor. He can be found on Twitter @iArunJ. Views are personal.
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