REVIEW: All or Nothing: Arsenal | A Stuttering Success

Spoiler alert… obviously.

When Arsenal announced they would be taking part in Amazon’s ‘All or Nothing’ series in July 2021, Mark Gonnella, Arsenal’s Media and Communications Director said this: 

“One consistent thing we hear from fans is their desire to see more about what happens behind closed doors at the club. All or Nothing will give our fans and sport lovers an opportunity to learn more about what makes Arsenal such a special club, our trophy laden history and our ambitions for future success.” 

I find the wording of that, no doubt carefully chosen by those in boardrooms far above Mark Gonnella, very instructive.

The key decision makers in the Kroenke family and Arsenal’s executive structure clearly wanted to begin to show themselves in a new light. To be listening to fan desires, reconnecting. Interested in showing how Arsenal work in a way they never had before — not just for the fans, for everybody. Arsenal have no doubt had offers to do this kind of thing before. So… why now?

As they green lit the filming, Arsenal had just finished 8th for the second season in a row, and their reputation was at a low ebb. Internally however, the club clearly felt they were turning the tide — backing Mikel strongly in the market, and promoting him from head coach to manager. I’m sure the board and owners felt there was an opportunity that with a well judged and curated documentary they could go some way to changing that negative external perception.

And the reputation management the documentary does isn’t happening in isolation. Arsenal are engaging more in the community, improving their relationship with their fans on match day and beyond, bringing the women’s team closer and even have a documentary out about Hale End. They’re being more transparent about the future via interviews in club media with Edu, Vinai and more.

To me, the placement of Josh Kroenke’s appearances, bookending the Amazon series, are not a coincidence. He may look like a super-villain, but his appearances in times of chaos at the start and end of the season feel particularly curated to make him look like a sort of benevolent, rich uncle.

There are those who would say its careful curation discounts any value it may have — it’s purely a PR exercise. But to me, there is much to take from it. By being aware of its intention as a front facing message, we can be conscious of the lens that the executives who signed off on the show would like us to see through — and that can inform our response.

Whether it’s been inspired by him or not, all of this clarity and newfound desire for connection from the club feels like it comes from one place — it has a life force, a purpose. The fulcrum of Arsenal’s contemporary era, and undoubtedly the protagonist of the series — Mikel Arteta. The documentary was an opportunity to boost the reputation of Arteta too, who was not universally loved by any stretch. The plot had to show a club heading in the right direction, but Mikel had to be the leading character — otherwise the show would have fallen short of its function.

Mikel comes across very, very well in the documentary.

If for the last 10 years Arsenal has been “Casa Pepe”, where “everybody has done what they wanted” as he describes when speaking about the Aubameyang situation, Mikel is the antidote to that.

He is the standard setter, the firm but fair headmaster expecting nothing but the highest of standards in every match, training session and action on and off the pitch. Hyper and future focused, Mikel exudes leadership. The players and staff speak glowingly about his tactical understanding of the game, and his treatment of those around him feels intense, but powered by care and love of the sport, not ego or personal pride.

Some of his speeches had me on the edge of my seat, ready to run through a brick wall for him. However, I found some of his pre-match speeches slightly contrived. It sometimes felt a little like he’d read a “how to speak to players” part of a coaching manual. “Use visual aids, repeat words, find a theme”. I found him to be much more erudite and impactful when speaking spontaneously — his two sentence remark about the late reaction after the Everton defeat away at Goodison Park was a particular highlight. Sometimes, less is more. His light bulb speech with Nicolas Jover scurrying around in the background was pretty Brent-esque.

The speakers blasting You’ll Never Walk Alone before the Liverpool game, playing them North London Forever with the karaoke lyrics, his funny drawings inspiring t-shirts… there’s a lot of meme-worthy moments if you’re looking for them. However, we have to remember that these speeches aren’t for us. They’re for millionaire footballers, about to go out and play in front of millions of people. Where I might find phrases you find on a “hustle” Instagram feed a bit cringe, these guys are not in a normal situation, and will likely have a very different perspective on every day life. The visual aids, to those who can’t speak English particularly well, may aid his messaging.

Clarity breeds clarity. If you made a word cloud out of what Arteta says in this series, the non-negotiables would certainly stick out: passion, energy, commitment, respect. His main messaging, sometimes to the point of overstatement at times, certainly gets through.

He shouts quite a bit, even losing his voice — there’s a time and a place for that in high pressure environments like this one, and it never crossed the line into abuse. But as anyone who has children or has worked with children will know, if you’re not conscious of how and when you’re raising your voice its effect begins to wear off, and I think that happens with adults too. I imagine as the team grows more and more to his liking, he may feel less compelled to do so.

One thing is for sure — Mikel is clear on what he wants done, and how he wants it done. You would have absolutely no doubt about where you stand, and what behaviours are and are not tolerated — if he’s willing to leave out Aubameyang, seemingly pushed by him based on the meeting seen between Richard Garlick, Edu and Vinai, he could leave you out too. Moving forward, there can be no doubting that the culture and standards at the club go through and start with him.

I felt the first 2 or 3 episodes were a little vanilla. It felt more like a season review with some dressing room footage, but there were certainly some interesting moments if you looked closely.

Carlos Cuesta comes across superbly over the series. The individual development coach has a wonderful glint in his eye, and is no doubt a future star of the game, speaking a number of languages. At 25 or 26, Cuesta speaks with the clarity and maturity of a man double his age, and his charisma feels warm and secure so as not to rub players of a similar age up the wrong way when giving them feedback, which he gives with extraordinary dexterity and sensitivity.

I completely agree on his assessment of Ben White’s anticipation — he is exceptionally good at reading the game. On White, another small moment early on that I found incredibly insightful was Arteta comments on the aggression in his game that he didn’t see before. He’s right. He’s looked fantastic in the right back zone recently as he’s not expected to arrive out wide to defend and can show his on-ball quality a little more as he inverts into the right half space. As a central defender in the wide zones going backwards, he can be a little overzealous in the challenge without security behind him — it’s good to hear they’re working on that, and good to hear Ben learns quickly.

The talking head-type profiles of the players were notable in terms of their selection, with Saka, Smith Rowe, Tierney, Ramsdale, White and Martinelli amongst them. Young, hungry, high potential players all who have a great deal to offer the club and form the core of the future of Arsenal — you can see the identity Arsenal are trying to portray. 

The only exception to that rule was Xhaka, who is doing his own kind of reputational repair. I found his Players Tribune interview to be quite avoidant of responsibility and a bit bizarre, so to see him actually addressing the disciplinary issues head on was a good sign — if a little obvious that they were trying to help us to empathise and see his personal side by showing his family. It may just be the way it’s edited, but he certainly speaks the most in the dressing room and is clearly well respected — there’s a reason he’s entering his seventh season at the club having never been dropped for any significant time.

As the series went on, there were some great moments. Stuart MacFarlane’s speech before the North London Derby was an inspired move from Mikel, and Ramsdale’s frustrations at conceding goals was a tonic for a dressing room that seemed sepulchrally silent at times after defeat.

I found the way they dealt with the Aubameyang situation utterly compelling. I think I’m right in saying it was dealt with over three episodes — they were clearly interested in showing the full extent of what happened. I suspect, given Aubameyang’s comments about Mikel upon joining Barcelona, that there is no love lost there at all.

I would have liked to have heard Aubameyang’s side of the story, but it looked pretty damning for him based on the now infamous “catalogue of misdemeanours” that Mikel has. If you want to set a standard and a culture at a club, it has to apply to all. I like that they didn’t shy away from the fact that not having Aubameyang was going to be hard — Edu, Vinai and Ramsdale all speaking about it. But as Arteta said, once you look in someone’s eyes and the trust is gone, it’s gone — Edu’s joke about Disneyworld really, really made me laugh.

I have to say, the scene where Rob Holding was explaining what happened with Aubameyang to Elneny felt very set up to me — I’m not sure Rob was comfortable doing it, and might have been told what to say. A little heavy handed for my taste.

The denouement of the show was utterly, utterly depressing. We really threw it away. Win any one of Palace, Brighton, Southampton, Spurs or Newcastle, and we get top four. Arteta’s comments about how there was something missing inside the players must have informed his strategy this summer — signing winners in Zinchenko and Jesus, raising the technical and mental expectations and level.

Other smaller moments: Mikel’s comment to Saka in Dubai about going forward first, you can see in his game. He’s got so much better at receiving the ball on the correct foot, at the right angle, sometimes feinting and beating his man, but always looking to go forward first. It’s hours on the training pitch.

I’d have liked to see more tactical stuff rather than narrative driven bits, but I understand why they didn’t show much. Saka’s moment with Teddy the young fan who wrote him a letter after the Euros was heartwarming, and I loved Eddie’s comment to Sambi about not playing much. Wake up indeed.

Nuno Tavares seems a sensitive soul, and I think it’s best he spends some time away — you can see Mikel’s frustration bubbling over with him at times, especially against West Ham towards the end of the season. He mentions how he was hard on him at half time, which we don’t see and may have been unsuitable for TV, and against Chelsea directed a general comment about mistakes being ok very clearly towards him. With time and confidence I do believe we could have a top player on our hands — the early signs at Marseille are great.

Arteta is a man on a mission. A man who coaches kids playing football while on holiday is someone who is truly obsessed with the game, and you can see that throughout the series. He said to Edu he wanted to spend 15 hours after the Wolves game analysing the players individually on his day off, and his wife Lorena says that if his kids weren’t at home, he’d just be in his office, working. He is obsessed with winning every duel, starting every game on the front foot, repeating it over and over again.

Overall, the documentary hits the spot, even if it’s a little vanilla at times. Fans will have wanted more insight, more juice, more conflict. I’d have loved to know what was said when Mikel left the room after the Newcastle defeat. But for what the owners and board no doubt wanted it to be and portray, it does exactly what it should. It shows Arsenal looking to be heading in the right direction, with the right people — and there are plenty of moments that, if you look hard, enough, you’ll find a great deal of insight.

Based on the reaction to William Saliba’s own goal against Leicester, Arteta and the clubs messaging promoting togetherness and unity is starting to percolate through.

3.5/5 stars from me.

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By the way, thought of a brilliant joke that I’m not sure has been done before. Instead of calling the series ‘All or Nothing’, because Arsenal didn’t win anything, they could just call it ‘Nothing’. Wouldn’t that be funny? 


Alexander Moneypenny

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