by Alen Joseph
26 December 2016, Boxing day is a much awaited fixture in the EPL schedule, more so for Arsenal, as the team have had their title run derailed on this same occasion in the recent past. Even this season, draw or loss would put an end to any effective title challenge. Nevertheless, even with this pressure mounting on them, the team had spent their Christmas with Save The Children foundation, spreading the joy of the season making the lives of many children special.
Arsenal players were out and about getting into the festive spirit with their local community. Players visited the local Whittington Hospital in Islington, whilst others spread some Christmas cheer with beneficiaries of The Arsenal Foundation, including Centre 404 – a centre for disabled young people and their families, and ‘Pedal Power’ – a regular cycling project held at Emirates Stadium every Thursday for the learning disabled community with profound and complex needs.
Club captain Per Mertesacker and fellow countryman and teammate Shkodran Mustafi joined ‘Pedal Power’ participants in the specially adapted tricycles and side-by-side tandems before rolling into The Hub – Home of Arsenal in the Community, to meet a variety of young people who deliver and participate in the community department’s variety of sport, social inclusion and education projects.
Whilst some players were spending time out in the community, other players were attending the annual Junior Gunners Christmas Party at London Colney, playing games and having fun with our young supporters.
Arsenal Kerala followed in the footsteps of the club’s initiatives by spending Christmas with the children at Corrections India and Ashwasa Bhavan, Kottayam. All the members actively contributed and raised money together for this cause.
Members spend the day with the children, playing a game or two of football. Arsenal Kerala also arranged lunch for all the children and staff at the institution. AKSC’s very own Santa Claus joined in the festivities as well, distributing Christmas gifts to the children.
Before that day, the children had no idea about what Arsenal was, but since then, the club has held a new meaning for them, in the form of beautiful football, active community interaction and some good Christmas cheer. Football has strong roots in Kerala and it will definitely grow deep with every passing day. And Arsenal Kerala continues to contribute to the community through different means including organizing sports events, charity fundraisers and other socially beneficial activities.
As usual, screenings were organized at different venues across the state as the fans thronged to watch their favorite team once more before the year ends. Screening was arranged in Kottayam, members who came to the orphanage gathered in The Palms. Other screening venues included those in Kochi, Thrissur and Calicut.
Arsene made two changes from the last lineup, Giroud started for the first time this season in Arsenal colours, Gibbs replaced the out of form Monreal. Arsenal dominated the game with possession and passes outside the box without any joy as the well-marshalled Tony Pulis’s side gave nothing away. The Baggies side were a hard team to crack, even the form Chelsea side could only muster two shots on target. First half ended with not many clear chances for Arsenal although a single long ball into the Gunners box gave shock down the spine for all the fans.
Second half was a similar story, as the gunners pushed on for a breakthrough only to be denied by the West Bromwich stopper Foster time and again. Wenger threw on all his attacking strength not settling for a draw. Lucas Perez who spent most of his Arsenal season on the bench gave a peach of cross after some good work by Alexis, the ball drifted pass the rushing legs of Ozil and Giroud. As the game reached the final stretch, the stats gave optimism as Arsenal have scored more goals than any PL team in the last fiveteen minutes. And finally, in the 86th minute, Ozil crossed the ball into the box and Giroud outmuscled the centre back MCauly as he headed the ball looping away from the outstretched arms of Foster. The Emirates erupted! So did the Palms restaurant in Kottayam. The late goal was enough to walk away with crucial 3 points.
Arsenal still find themselves 9 points adrift from the league leaders and any significant title challenge requires consistent results during the next few months. But the return of key players from injury and a few easy fixtures ahead, fills the hearts of fans across Kerala with optimism.
Arsenal Kerala members ended the night on a good note as The Arsenal finished off 2016 . This has been a significant year for Arsenal Kerala as the Supporters Club was officially recognized by the Club earlier in the year. Let’s hope for greater things for Arsenal and work towards a stronger and more socially active Arsenal Kerala, in 2017/
Happy New Year in advance everyone !