Should you emerge from Liverpool Lime Street station at any time this week, you would be confronted by a huge hoarding advertising the new Amazon Prime series ‘Arsenal: All or Nothing’.
There in the center of the poster is club manager Mikel Arteta, staring down at passing customers, his eyebrows so stunning it looks like he’s just had a threading session at the nearby Face Brow Bar.
If it seems like an odd bit of marketing to be promoting this behind-the-scenes documentary about Arsenal’s 2021/22 season in a city where there are probably fewer Arsenal fans than you might find in Ulaanbaatar, to misunderstand what appears to be be the main motivation for the series: to let supporters of other clubs fool around at the expense of the subject.
And let’s face it, there’s a lot to laugh about in All Or Nothing: Arsenal. Not least in that title, frustrated as it is by the time lag between the collection of material and the program’s release.
Here’s a behind-the-scenes documentary filled with earnest insistence from Arteta that if his players follow his “process” they’ll be richly rewarded, its urgent musical soundtrack hinting at impending danger, but before we start watching we all know exactly how it ends. Spoiler alert: Arsenal finish fifth in the Premier League. Which in truth is neither all nor nothing.
Still, after being confronted with the huge poster, any Liverpool local wondering whether to tune in will find plenty to cheer about. Indeed, not since Troopz, Claude and Robbie were at their frothy best for Arsenal Fan TV has there been such a clear invitation to giggle at the Gooners.
Take the sequence in the first episode where Arteta tries to do something different to encourage his players ahead of a game at Anfield. Remembering how he was temporarily hindered by the atmosphere when he turned up at the stadium, the manager decides to rig up a loudspeaker system around the training ground and have his players go through the final preparations to a soundtrack of ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ ‘ blasting out of the speakers.
“He’s a freak,” Granit Xhaka says of his boss. “But in a positive way. He sees details others don’t.”
Curiously, although we see the preparation in its entirety, we do not see the consequence of the particular use of details: after watching his side being deflated 4-0, Arteta had to be restrained on the sidelines from physically confronting his opponent Jurgen Klopp. Apparently that’s what happens when you think outside the box.
This has been the experience of previous series involving Manchester City and Tottenham: you tune in hoping for insight and end up confronted with comical levels of corporate motivational speech. Although in this one, for all his espousal of new ways of doing things, arguably the most effective bit of giving up Arteta is when, ahead of the north London derby, he hands the team call to club photographer 30-year-old Stuart MacFarlane.
Unleashing his inner Neil Warnock, MacFarlane effs and jeffs about how important this game is to the fans. And guess what? Arsenal lead 3-0 inside half an hour. Although in truth it may have been more to do with the fact that then Tottenham manager, Nuno Espirito Santo, decided not to field a defense in that game and less MacFarlane’s stirring words.
The first person to congratulate the snapper after he had given his speech was significantly Bukayo Saka. What All of Nothing informs us most about Arsenal is that the England winger is the Michael Palin of the Emirates, the nicest guy in football. Kind, generous and sweetly naive, Saka stands out as a splendid counterpoint to the cynicism of the modern game.
But beyond telling us what a top man Saka is, what exactly is the purpose of All or Nothing: Arsenal? Perhaps it becomes apparent in one of the interactions he has in the first episode. After the EC final, when the poor lad is being hailed for his penalty miss, we are told that one of the first supportive texts he received was from Josh Kroenke, son of the club owner.
In fact, Kroenke’s presence throughout the documentary is entirely benevolent, a glowing enthusiast for the game, deeply in love with Arsenal and the entire football system. And we thought he was one of the main architects of the European Super League. Ah well, as has always been the case in marketing, he who pays the piper calls the tune.