Eight Arsenal FC players paid a very special visit to the Royal Free Hospital’s children’s ward delivering gifts and spreading festive cheer among staff, patients, and their families.

Frida Maanum, Laura Wienroither, Stina Blackstenius, Karl Hein, Fabio Viera, Marquinhos, Granit Xhaka and Oleksandr Zinchenko all took time out of their busy training schedule to hand out the presents and chat with children on 6 North.

Sanam Shaikh, twin sister Annam and brother Rayhan (pictured below) are a family of Arsenal fans and were delighted to meet the team. Sanam has been cared for by staff on the ward since June this year. She said: “We live really close to the Emirates stadium and we’ve all been to Arsenal matches, so it was so exciting to meet the footballers!”

Imran Shaikh, Sanam’s father, continued: “It was such a special experience, and we appreciate them taking the time to visit.”

Leo, pictured below, was also surprised by the players. Josie, his mother, said: “Leo really enjoyed picking out his presents. He is a football fan and loves the toy dinosaur!” Josie used to live near Highbury, and shared that Arsenal were the first team she supported.

Royal Free London staff also got to speak with the team. Olesya Semenyuk, play assistant on the ward, said: “Having the players here really makes a difference to children and the parents. It takes their mind off things for the afternoon.

“It was amazing to meet Oleksandr Zinchenko – he is a great Ukrainian player. Arsenal have two Ukrainian players and I was hoping that one of them would come today. I sent the picture to my family, and they are all really impressed. It was wonderful to meet him.”

Siobhan McCurry, play specialist, added: “It’s lovely to have the footballers back on the ward. Due to COVID-19, they haven’t been able to visit for the past two years. The children and the parents – and our staff – really enjoy it. It put a smile on everyone’s faces so it’s brilliant to have them back.”

Arella, a patient on the ward, shared more about the visit: “I enjoyed meeting them. They were all very kind and it’s nice to break up a long day at the hospital with something fun. I’m excited to tell my friends at school.”