Years ago, I lived in London for a summer. The apartment I shared with another student was in a house that was a bit gloomy, often in shadow. That’s because, close by, was the looming Highbury Stadium, home to Arsenal Football Club. Yep, we are continuing our communal soccer education today.
Arsenal was then a middling-good club in English soccer and we had a certain affection for it. One reason was a young Irishman, Liam Brady, had started playing there and would make the team a lot better. In the years and decades that followed, Arsenal would become formidable, winning countless trophies and playing in the top European competitions. Most of that happened while playing in that boxlike stadium in North London. Then things went a bit awry and, among other events, the club moved to a new and bigger, sleek stadium.
All or Nothing: Arsenal (streams on Amazon Prime Video) goes inside the team during the 2021-22 season. It’s not the first time Amazon’s streaming service has gone deep inside a soccer club, but this is one of the most gripping, fraught excursions. It was a disastrous season at times, full of drama, rage and disappointment. At the centre of all the drama is a young manager, Mikel Arteta, who is either learning on the job, or hopelessly lost, depending on the charity of your vision. And Premier League soccer in England is no place to expect charitable views or actions.
From the get-go there is bristling tension around the team called The Gunners. You don’t need to be a soccer expert to grasp it all. Arsenal’s owners, the U.S. company Kroenke Sports & Entertainment (also owners of the Colorado Avalanche in the NHL and the NFL’s Los Angeles Rams) had agreed to put the club into the proposed European Super League.
The backlash, including street demonstrations, was furious. The owners reversed course. (Josh Kroenke appears often here, carefully putting a positive spin on things.) Further, England’s defeat at the Euro tournament final in London came when young Arsenal player Bukayo Saka missed England’s final penalty shot. First, he faced vicious racist abuse, then he became a symbol for the forces of anti-racism.
To begin, it’s Arteta who commands the drama. He seems a sensitive soul, thoughtful and interested in generating what he calls, “positive emotions.” It’s not a surprise to learn the Spanish manager has taken inspiration from the fictional Ted Lasso. He gives heartwarming but baffling pep talks to his players. He never seems angry, just burdened. But elite soccer in England isn’t fiction, it’s very real and we see Arsenal face a brutal reality check in its first few games.
The supporters are disgusted, they boo the players at half time and leave before a match ends. The young players are on edge, unused to the abuse. Arteta, who was captain of Arsenal as a player, becomes reflective, never varying his approach to positive energy. You begin to feel sorry for the man.
The star, among the players who allow access, is goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale. Open, articulate and sometimes furious, Ramsdale talks, early in the series, about shutting out the world. “People are jealous, people are fickle,” he says. “The only person’s opinion I need to listen to, is the manager.” Ramsdale’s family are another treat to meet. His father is like the leading figure in a British sitcom: funny, swearing a blue streak and full of the joys of life.
The issue with all these documentary series is, first, access. While presented as a fly-on-the-wall chronicle, they never cover the ugly backroom machinations. Here, there is more raw emotion than usual, and there is more to come. (Three episodes available now, the rest of eight arriving weekly.) The other problem is that the filmmakers can only deal with the story handed to them. They cannot control the ups and downs of an entire season. In this instance, Arsenal’s season was heavy with doubt and disappointment, then seemed to be aspirational, heading in the right direction and, at the end, bitterness reigned.
In the matter of the English Premier League, the games are now available in Canada on streaming service FuboTV. While this comes as a shock to those who subscribe to DAZN, Fubo is an interesting outlet. The basic package also includes Ligue 1 from France, Turkish Super League, Liga MX from Mexico, CONCACAF competitions, and Canadian Premier League plus Serie A and Coppa Italia, from Italy. And there’s an entertainment stream too, which includes Paramount Network Canada.
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