Arsenal All or Nothing review: Mikel Arteta cares as much as the fans do
Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta takes centre stage in the latest Amazon ‘All or Nothing’ docuseries, which is released on Thursday.
The Spaniard is revealed as a brave, passionate and deeply emotional man, who sticks steadfastly to his principles, despite almost intolerable pressure, as his ‘project’ at the Emirates threatens to unravel.
Whatever fans now think of Arteta’s efforts to rejuvenate the Gunners, who finished fifth last season and missed out on Champions League qualification, they will surely come away from this series convinced that the boss at least cares as much as they do.
In the first three episodes of the eight-parter, which will stream this week, Arteta is seen clinging to his job at the beginning of a turbulent campaign, as fans call for his removal and the owners, the Kroenke family, hold firm.
Mikel Arteta takes centre stage in the latest All or Nothing docuseries focusing on Arsenal
Film-makers at Amazon Prime Video went behind-the-scenes to document a topsy-turvy season, which saw the Gunners hit rock bottom, the emergence of young talents like Emile Smith Rowe, the rehabilitation of England winger Bukayo Saka following the racial abuse sparked by his missed penalty against Italy in the Euro 2020 final and the painful departure of club captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
The latest fly-on-the-wall offering, revolves around the manager more than previous series featuring Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City,
In the Spurs and City documentaries there is a sense that Jose Mourinho shows the viewers what he wants them to see and Pep Guardiola gives little of himself away.
This time, Arteta is laid bare. He opens up to the cameras, but more importantly, to his players. He admits his own failings and with unique training methods and preparation he leaves himself open to ridicule.
It has already started. Journalist and presenter Piers Morgan labelled Arteta ‘weird’ after footage emerged last week of a crucial team talk in which he sincerely ‘thanked’ his team after they had lost three games straight.
The Spaniard is laid bare as he opens up to the cameras, but more importantly, to his players
But whatever the critics think, the team responded to that moment, beating Norwich and going on an eight-game unbeaten run, and they respond to Arteta.
Arsenal were the youngest team in the Premier League last season, with an average starting age of 24 years and 308 days, a year younger than their nearest rivals.
The Amazon Prime cameras capture the impact of defeat on young players. If anything, their desperation to deliver becomes a burden in itself and it is that which Arteta is trying to address.
By showing himself as vulnerable, while pledging to defend them and constantly reinforcing his belief in them, he hopes to give the team more security, to push beyond their fear and to persuade them to play with freedom.
It is an intriguing – and sometimes painful – watch.
Following summer transfer spending of £156million – greater than any top flight club last summer – Arteta was expected to succeed in his third campaign at the Emirates, but when his young team struggled with defeats at Brentford (0-1) and Manchester City (0-4) and at home to Chelsea (0-2), the atmosphere quickly turned toxic.
The first episode covers Arsenal’s poor start to the season, including a loss to Manchester City
‘We are bottom of the league, zero goals, we’ve conceded nine, zero points,’ Arteta reflects to camera with searing honesty. ‘We are getting hammered by everybody.
‘It is the biggest challenge that I have faced since I joined the club.
‘In difficult moments you question yourself. You have fears. Difficult things happen in your mind. Can I turn it around? Do I have the energy to go back to transmit what I have to transmit, how are we going to do it?’
‘Are people going to believe in what we are doing?’
Many supporters had decided they didn’t and declared it was time for a change. Players are seen in earnest discussion with coaching staff, while the senior pros, like Alexandre Lacazette, carefully focus the minds of younger colleagues on the need to win, and the son of the unpopular owner jets in to offer support.
‘How are you?’ Josh Kroenke asks Arteta in the canteen, a man who is clearly under the cosh, despite insisting he is ‘good’.
‘We need some stability,’ adds Kroenke, reassuringly. ‘I was annoyed there were so many people trying to fracture the group. The only guys you can trust are the ones in the room with you. That’s all I know…. But onward we go.’
Kroenke adds to camera: ‘Our main motto is tune out the noise, keep our heads down and have each other’s backs. At times everyone needs to have an arm around their shoulder.’
The Kroenke family was castigated by fans last season after they tried to take Arsenal into the European Super League. This is a more sympathetic representation.
A pivotal moment early in the season came in the extraordinary team talk Arteta gave before the home game against Norwich City on September 11.
Arteta opened up about a heart condition he had as a child, talked about the importance of family and the club in his life.
Series presents a more sympathetic representation of Arsenal’s owners. (Pic: Josh Kroenke)
He went on to reveal how Arsenal’s poor form had affected him personally. He said: ‘After Man City, I had fear, I had insecurity, I had the media that is killing me.
‘Suddenly, I have all the positives. I have an amazing family. I have a wife, three kids. And another one: The club.
‘[I have] You guys. This week I have found the purpose of why I want to be a coach, why I’m in the industry, why I have to be with these people.
‘So, for these guys, all I have to say is thank you so much to all of you. You made a difficult moment the best week of my football career.’
He finishes the speech with a final message of hope: ‘Believe in yourself, I do. You are really good.’
‘What on earth have I just watched? So weird.’ tweeted Morgan in response to the video, which was released as part of a trailer. There is plenty more ‘weirdness’ to come.
Arteta is a young coach, who is happy to step outside of the routine training ground drills
But the speech received a rapturous ovation from the players and staff, who offer a committed, albeit flawed performance, but scraped home 1-0, Aubameyang scoring the winner.
Arteta is depicted as a feisty thinker, regularly urging his players to be ‘f*****g aggressive’ on the field, engaging in a furious touchline spat with Jurgen Klopp at Liverpool, while always reflecting on how he can do more to help his team.
Results pick up, and so does the mood. Saka is seen describing the joys of Thorpe Park, the theme park in Surrey, to some of the club’s international stars and bizarrely, but earnestly, demanding to know if they have ever encountered ‘a maze’?
The players, typically, line up to praise the manager.
Saka describes him as a ‘top coach’, Granit Xhaka says he is a ‘freak in a positive way’, referring to the details Arteta sees which others do not and Martin Odegaard simply says his boss is ‘brilliant’.
At just 40, Arteta is a young coach, who is happy to step outside of the routine training ground drills.
Prior to the North London derby on September 26, Arteta invited club photographer, Stuart MacFarlane to give the team talk. It must have been a nerve-wracking experience for the club stalwart, but he got his point across, telling the players ‘look at how much [the fans] love you’ for their motivation.
It worked. The Gunners blew Spurs away.
Before he took his team to Liverpool, the boss set up training sessions in which he blasted the sounds of the Anfield Kop, anthem ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’, from loud speakers set up around the pitch to prepare the players for the ‘unique’ experience on playing on Merseyside. It didn’t work, they lost 4-0 after falling apart in the second half.
Before the trip to Liverpool, he set up sessions where he blasted the sounds of the Anfield Kop
The strategy didn’t work, as Arsenal lost 4-0 to the Reds after falling apart in the second half
At Leicester City, he asked the team to rub their palms together while imagining how they would fight for each other when they took to the field at the King Power in a few moments time, and then told them to hold hands to feel the power of their team mates.
Arsenal were fantastic, and then returned to the dressing room victorious and enthusiastically took the mickey out of their coach, who loved it.
But Arteta is not a soft touch. He comes across as a complex character, prepared to show weakness, but at the same time, passionately focused on the need to be the best you can be and ultimately to win.
At Everton, where Arsenal put in a sub-par performance, conceding a 1-0 lead in the final 10 minutes to lose 2-1, Arteta lets his players know they have fallen short.
As players, including goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale, scream their frustrations, Arteta steps in.
‘I don’t want to regret anything I am going to say now,’ he says to a silent dressing room, speaking quietly. ‘The reaction here is late, here, it is too late.’ And with that he leaves.
Arteta is revealed as a brave, passionate and deeply emotional man in the first three episodes
While these early episodes do not deal with the departure of Aubameyang, who left the club by mutual consent on February 1 bound for Barcelona, discontent is already brewing on both sides. Arteta substituted the experienced striker before dropping him to the bench against Southampton.
On December 15, the club announced that Aubameyang would be stripped of the club captaincy due to repeated disciplinary breaches.
Aubameyang is a critical part of the story, which is yet to be told in this series. At first, he looks every bit the privileged footballer, arriving at their London Colney training ground in a two-tone Ferrari and black and gold tracksuit to match. However, he also reveals his own passion for Arsenal and determination to succeed for the club.
Prior to the derby against Spurs, Aubameyang is filmed having his trademark star cut into his hair. In 2016, he had a star to remember his grandfather who had died and he scored twice against Spurs. Since then, he has repeated the motif for the derby.
‘It would be something great [to score again], I hope it happens,’ Aubameyang reflects. ‘I know the feeling and I am just waiting for it.’
Aubameyang is a critical part of the story and his unceremonious exit comes later in the series
The striker did go on to score the second goal in an emphatic 3-1 win, but there was trouble ahead.
Underpinning the narrative in this series is the expectation of the club and fans to at least achieve a Champions League place.
‘Let’s not hide from the fact that this is Arsenal,’ says club legend, Thierry Henry, following the awful start. ‘You have to make top four. Surely pride has to kick in. I get annoyed sometimes when people have a go at the manager, “he can’t handle it”. No, “they” can’t handle it.’
Arsenal’s Champions League push was derailed with two defeats in the last three games, including a loss to Spurs, who pipped them to fourth. Henry may have had a point.