Head slightly bowed for the hairdresser to work, Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang reveals why he gets a star done prior to a game against Tottenham Hotspur. It is 48 hours before the first north London derby of 2021-22. Soon after, Emile Smith-Rowe mentions why playing Spurs could create an awkward situation at home. Preparing for a game at Anfield, the team trains with ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ blasting from speakers and Mikel Arteta tells players how he once gave up against Liverpool. “It is the toughest place in the league,” he says. After the 0-5 loss to Manchester City, Arteta talks of self-doubt.
You would expect such revelations after Arsenal allowed cameras access to some of its most private places and most intimate moments last season. They are the latest in the ‘All Or Nothing’ series on Amazon Prime, the first three of the eight episodes chronicling 2021-22 being released on Thursday.
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Like with Manchester City, Juventus and Tottenham Hotspurs – started in 2016, the series also features grid iron and ice hockey teams and Brazil on way to the 2019 Copa America title – this has interviews, dining room conversations, bus rides, plane rides, a lot of the change room before, during and after a match and of Arsenal’s training centre at London Colney.
If the Arsenal shade of red is your favourite colour, the series will have you at the hello. It opens with a magnificent top shot of the Emirates Stadium glowing in the London night sky. Going into the season, manager Arteta accepts that the team has lost a “little bit” and talks of the need to get the fans to believe again. But the opposite happens as they start with three successive defeats including at Brentford, back in the top tier after 74 years.
Anger at owners Kroenke Sports and Entertainment, especially after Arsenal joined the European Super League, isn’t glossed over but most of the fans interviewed speak about the need to sack Arteta. Appearing in the first episode, Arsenal director Josh Kroenke does not address the super league fiasco but talks about behind-the-scenes efforts to connect with fans and the need to back Arteta.
In such series, the manager or head coach usually gets the maximum screen time and the best lines. He is glue that holds the narrative. So it fit that Arteta, like Justin Langer in ‘The Test’ also on Amazon Prime, stressing on “passion” is in the introduction. Towards the end of the first episode, he talks about being “born with big heart disease” and how life was a struggle for the first two years till he could get surgery done in Spain. Arteta’s recollection of early childhood is to tell his players about high-performance teams, “those that work 24×7” because “they love what they do.”
He brings this up after Arsenal’s 0-5 defeat at Manchester City. Through the first three episodes, he radiates positivity, refusing to blame his young team, not even after big defeats at City and Liverpool, which ended a 10-game unbeaten run, thanking them instead for rescuing him from the depths of despair. Every difficult moment has made me a better person, he says. But inside his car, the windows rolled up, Arteta also recalls that Pep Guardiola had told him how lonely this job could get. Arteta spent three years as Guardiola’s assistant at City.
Actor Daniel Kaluuya is the narrator and there are interviews of Thierry Henry and musician KSI. But none so far of Arsene Wenger though the beating heart of Arsenal for 22 years is seen in the opening montage holding aloft the Premier League trophy and later in a game so clearly from another era that you can see a spectator pulling on a cigarette.
As with City, Juve and Spurs, this is an inside view of operations, the five-star infrastructure at a major football club and how multiple arms must work in unison to get the best out of its most precious assets, the players. If that means taking a 14-minute flight to Norwich, like Arsenal did in 2012 and 2015, so be it. This is as fascinating as watching a great club attempt a reset.