Though I can’t be absolutely sure that All or Nothing: Arsenal is the most boring TV show I’ve seen this side of 2010, I will just quietly note that at one point – I believe Mikel Arteta, the club’s Spanish manager, was giving yet another of his morale-boosting talks – I did find myself doing a teeny bit of internet shopping on the side. Yes, Arteta is obviously a nice guy, and very dishy, too, if I’m allowed to objectify him so outrageously; he looks seriously good in his clothes, whether of red nylon or grey cashmere. But his team talks, delivered with the help of a whiteboard and a magic marker, are pure, distilled David Brent. (“Ipso facto. Trust received, responsibility given and taken.”) The first time you see one, it’s (almost) hilarious. The second and third time you do, you begin to lose the will to live.
Behind-the-scenes documentaries require two things for success: big characters and narrative drama, some heart-in-the-mouth jeopardy. The latter, inevitably, is a problem here. Even many non-football fans will know that Arsenal finished the 2021-22 season, which this series charts, fifth in the Premier League, a position that was something of a miracle given their rubbish start; no one’s going to be on the edge of their seat watching them lose to Chelsea, to Manchester City, and even (a bit later) to Everton. The producers make a lot of the fact that Arsenal’s squad, like its manager, is the youngest in the league. How, we’re invited to wonder, will its players cope with the pressure? But though the fans are restless, the media is snarky and the forward Bukayo Saka can’t even visit his local Waitrose without the staff wanting selfies (and in a hoodie and a Covid mask, too!), it’s hard to worry for them. These are lucky young men, and they’re getting luckier, at least financially, minute-by-minute, hour-by-hour.
As for big characters, there are none. When Josh Kroenke, an Arsenal director and the son of Stan Kroenke, whose sports-media conglomerate now owns the club, first lurched into view, I was hopeful. His height and Rasputin beard give him the look of a tyrant in a film by Paul Thomas Anderson. Alas, no shouting ensues, and no ruthless plotting – or if it does, it happens off stage. These films feel very press-released: the kind of corporate products that could, in other circumstances, be sold along with all the other merch at the Emirates Stadium (when Amazon made another series in this franchise, All or Nothing: Manchester City, it was revealed that it had paid the club £10m for access; this isn’t exactly investigative journalism). A sceptical eye would, in this instance, be a thousand times more refreshing than any isotonic drink. Even the talking heads are all Arsenal till they die: Thierry Henry, the former captain; various kvetching, proprietorial fans.
Three episodes in and it’s Aaron Ramsdale’s dad’s surprising Afghan hat that is the series’ unlikely star (Ramsdale is the Arsenal goalie). As far away from Gucci or Loewe as you can get, it makes him look like a gap year student circa 1989 whose travels went on a bit too long. Mr Ramsdale, I would like to know more about you, and perhaps we could chat at a forthcoming parents’ evening. For, yes, All or Nothing: Arsenal does indeed bring school to mind. Here is its head, Arteta, frantically drawing his charts and praying for the bell. Here is his assistant, Steve Round, trying, and sometimes failing, to look enthusiastic about the new timetable. And here – “any groin strains? hernias?” – is Gary O’Driscoll, still absolutely determined after all these years to make GCSE biology fun (O’Driscoll is the club medic).
As for Year 11, they’re all in the canteen, clattering their trays, enjoying some bantz about transfer fees. Has ever a class been more pampered pre-examinations? Better prepared for what might lie ahead? I doubt it, though as any teacher knows, sometimes all the coaching in the world is to no avail. Ahead of their game against Liverpool, Arteta insisted on blasting out You’ll Never Walk Alone as the boys practised – and we all know what happened at Anfield. Grades were on the low side. Afterwards, the only noise to be heard in the away team’s dressing room was the deafening sound of the players’ studs on its floor.
[See also: Why I didn’t watch the 2022 Women’s Euros]