By Rob Kelly in Beijing
"Can I get a hug please, Kieran?" It may have been an unorthodox start to the day for Kieran Gibbs, but the bemused left back was happy to comply with the young fan’s request in a lift at the team hotel.
The devotion from the Club’s Chinese supporters is remarkable, and this was just one of the many requests the players receive on a daily basis in the Far East.
Day five of Arsenal's 2012 Tour, presented by Emirates, was always likely to provide a few twists and turns along the way as the players were whisked around this sprawling modern metropolis to a whole host of different events.
But it was the boss, Arsène Wenger, who kicked off proceedings as he delighted a room of 500 students and alumni at Tsinghua University with a Q&A session.
Elsewhere Alex Song, Mikel Arteta, Thomas Vermaelen and Wojciech Szczesny held a coaching clinic sponsored by Emirates for a gaggle of excited children. All the while in another part of the city there were Jianzi demonstrations, a visit to the Forbidden City, live webchats with the Club's Chinese fans, a presentation to entrepreneurs and a Nike retail event.
It was busy - very busy - but the players enjoyed the wide variety on offer, especially two events in particular.
As part of a visit to a Save the Children project in Beijing, Johan Djourou and Abou Diaby read stories from their fellow players, staff and supporters to children in a bid to inspire them. They also played an impromptu game of football and gave the children a day they will never forget. The beaming smiles on the faces of both players afterwards told its own story.
Meanwhile, Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain had a Tai Chi and Shaolin demonstration, followed by a kung-fu lesson in self-defence. The England duo took the lesson in their stride and added some moves to their attacking arsenal on a thoroughly enjoyable morning at the team hotel. This season’s opposing defenders had better watch out…
The evening offered little respite from the players’ packed schedule as they headed for an open training session in front of Beijing’s passionate fans at the National Olympic Sports Centre.
It was all preparation for tomorrow’s showdown with Manchester City at the Bird’s Nest - and a match that could bring this city to a standstill if the reception so far is anything to go by.
TOUR BLOG ARCHIVE:26 Jul 2012