The irony of the All or Nothing brand is that it rarely shows ‘all’ or ‘nothing’. Instead, it tends to serve up a relatively placid dose of ‘something’.
All or Nothing: Arsenal doesn’t let you see what the club doesn’t want you to see, but this fresh edition is the best offering of the AoN franchise to date.
Fly-on-the-wall football documentaries have a limit. There’s only so much you can do in one season following a Premier League club, and of course, the filmmakers are tasked with telling the story of the campaign, not creating it.
AoN: Arsenal is instantly helped by the campaign storyline that it follows through the 2021/22 season. The story of a major club in the doldrums, rising from 20th to the Champions League places with a hammer blow finish is an ideal foundation to build on.
The series begins with an episode full of beat-ups for the fans. For supporters, it’s the streaming equivalent of going into a 50:50 with Granit Xhaka. You want to go for it, but you’re not going to enjoy it.
Fans are painted as the caricatures we’ve all grown accustomed to via the infamous AFTV – though none of its crew makes the cut. Everyone here is an Invincibles-demanding deserter, blasting the team for a lack of passion and commitment… from outside the Etihad Stadium after going 2-0 down to Manchester City, 15 minutes after kick-off.
If that’s not enough, AoN shows a graphic highlighting Arsenal propping up the Premier League table in dead last, while Tottenham sit at the very top of the tree. The producers even choose to show us Bukayo Saka’s decisive Euro 2020 penalty shoot-out miss. Maybe after all of this you’d choose the duel with Granit.
However, this is all necessary. Mikel Arteta’s credentials are put under the microscope and misery is applied liberally. A season that focuses on genuine lows makes for far better television than a showcase of competition.
Fear not, it’s not all gloom. Storm clouds are pierced by rays of light from a cast of Arsenal stars clearly unfazed by the Big Brother existence they are being subjected to.
Ben White recalls kids’ surprise at his transfer fee: “£50 million? But you’re s**t?” Thierry Henry makes quips as a talking head, and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is a target of mockery for matching his gold shoes with his gold Lamborghini.
Meanwhile, Kieran Tierney simply opening his mouth to say anything and Alexandre Lacazette’s deadpan read-out of the situation, as Arsenal stare in the face of their worst ever start to a football season, drew big laughs at the premiere.
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The standout performer in episode 1 is undoubtedly Aaron Ramsdale’s dad – and his technicolour hat – who is destined to become the meme of summer 2022 quicker than you can say: “F**k me, he’s f**king starting.”
Arteta is the key protagonist of the show and will come out well from this peek behind the curtain. The Spanish boss comes across as a serious character, and a serious football geek, but with plenty of passion for his role. He does drift into Alan Partridge territory with cute whiteboard drawings that will no doubt attract scorn from rivals but should endear him further to the Arsenal faithful.
The highlight of the opening episodes undoubtedly comes when Arteta deploys a secret weapon ahead of the north London derby. He cuts through the dressing room waving a camera, hauls the club’s chief photographer Stuart McFarlane in front of an expectant squad and lets the magic happen.
McFarlane – a diehard, long-time Arsenal fan – launches into an authentically moving speech, unseen until now, a rousing battle cry for the ages.
“This is my club. I f**king love this club,” he begins. “And I f**king love all of you.” It’s a spine-tingling moment worthy of the admission fee alone, so to speak. It’s a genuine outpouring of real emotion, and if you can watch it without wanting to leave your home and stick to a hat-trick past Spurs, you’re a stronger person than I am.
Sincerely, it is one of the best moments I can remember from a team sports documentary.
For all its charm, AoN: Arsenal is not perfect. Of course, it is limited by the natural constraints of being a behind-the-scenes sports documentary. Like many before it, the series won’t show ‘all’ or ‘nothing’, and this is made particularly clear from the start as the European Super League saga is reduced to a floating montage of protests shot on camera phones and a couple of vague sentences from the otherwise superb Daniel Kaluuya, who narrates the series wonderfully.
The ESL farce is instead used to tee up the introduction of Doctor Strange lookalike Josh Kroenke, portrayed as a back-slapping, rootin’ tootin’ wizard who rides in to get things done and save the day. Fun Uncle Josh does n’t hog a great deal of airtime but his washedy apology for the ESL farce is given greater exposure than any kind of explanation as to what he and his family attempted to do.
There is a fundamental ceiling when it comes to sports documentaries – access. You will access all areas, but only at times deemed appropriate by the subject, in this case, Arsenal. The camera will always stop rolling before true ugliness is exposed, but the opening episodes dwell on enough doom to contrast the subsequent boom to make it all palatable.
You will never quite see ‘all’ but the ‘something’ is easy-to-watch, easy-to-enjoy entertainment.
All or Nothing: Arsenal’s first three episodes premiere on Amazon Prime Video on Thursday 4th August – sign up for a free 30-day trial of Prime Video.
If you’re looking for something else to watch check out our TVGuide or visit our Sport hub.
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