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Why Boxing Day is a sacred day in the Premier League

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Boxing Day is one of the most sacred days in the Premier League calendar.

It is my favorite.

[ STREAM: Every Boxing Day game live

There’s a special buzz around the stadiums, towns and in homes across the UK as the entire festive schedule centers around December 26 each year.

When I speak to most Americans about the Premier League, one of the topics which often comes up is “hey, how crazy is Boxing Day?” It is crazy, especially with so many matchdays bunched together around Christmas and New Year’s.

But Brits wouldn’t have it any other way as eight games take place on Dec. 26 and you can sit back and watch them all via NBC Sports by clicking on the link above.

Boxing Day is, of course, a national holiday in the UK and in case you didn’t know the history behind the day, it dates back centuries with the etymology being linked to a day where Christmas boxes were given to trade workers in the week after Christmas to thank them for their work all year.

It is also a day where the sporting calendar thrives as cricket, horse racing and rugby all compete with soccer to be the sport to watch on Dec. 26. When it comes down to it, it’s all about soccer with a full day of games across the professional, semi-professional and often amateur leagues across the UK. Across the rest of Europe, they’re on a break and enjoying the holidays with their families and friends.

In the UK soccer takes center stage on Boxing Day.

With some calling for a winter break in England to give the English national team a better chance of advancing to the latter stages of a World Cup or European Championship, many soccer fans in the UK would rather have the Boxing Day schedule such is the connection to the day. They’d rather have that warm moment around the holidays to connect with their team than see England get to the semifinals of a tournament and then get knocked out on penalty kicks…

LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 26: Fans wear 'Father Christmas' style hats during the Barclays Premier League match between Crystal Palace and Southampton at Selhurst Park on December 26, 2014 in London, England. (Photo by Christopher Lee/Getty Images)
(Photo by Christopher Lee/Getty Images)

Coming the day after Christmas Day, it is also the perfect time to head out of the house after a few days of feasting and sharing gifts with the family. It’s a chance to get some fresh air, catch up with friends over a pint or at the bookies about their holiday stories and then cheer on your team while you wear your new scarf of jacket.

There’s no other day like it.

In the past teams used to play back-to-back games on Christmas Day and Boxing Day (the last time they did this was 1957) and that seems a little too much. Boxing Day has survived the test of time and with stadiums packed due to everyone heading home for the holidays, it’s a special time to watch a game and usually special games spring up with goals galore. Due to squad rotation and some teams adapting to the festive schedule better than others, you never quite know what will happen.

Opposition fans are friendlier (minutely) with their chants, stadium staff and supporters get along and even the players seem to be enjoying themselves a little more despite having a game to play.

The energy and vibe is different and, much like opening day, it is one of the best days in the Premier League season. Plus, you’re approaching the midway point of the campaign so plenty of teams are still optimistic about what lies ahead and even if your team is struggling, there’s still time to turn things around.

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 14: General View of a Christmas tree at the front of the stadium prior to the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester United and Liverpool at Old Trafford on December 14, 2014 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
(Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)

Full of festive cheer, crazy games and history, Boxing Day is ingrained in the British soccer psyche.

Like opening day in MLB, Thanksgiving games in the NFL and the Sunday of a Masters week at Augusta, it is a sacred day in the sporting calendar where the action often encapsulates the overall mood.

Three things we learned from Arsenal v Chelsea in FA Cup final

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LONDON — Arsenal beat Chelsea 2-1 in the FA Cup final on Saturday at Wembley as the Gunners won the FA Cup for the third time in four years and a record-breaking 13th time.

[ MORE: Gunners win FA Cup

Arsene Wenger has now won seven FA Cups, more than any other manager in history, as he denied Antonio Conte and Chelsea the chance to secure a famous Premier League and FA Cup double.

Here’s what we learned from an intense FA Cup final as Arsenal won their 13th FA Cup, becoming the most successful team in tournament history.


MERTESACKER A MAN MOUNTAIN

Per Mertesacker, Arsenal’s club captain, had not started a single game in the 2016-17 season.

His first start was in the FA Cup final at Wembley against Chelsea and the German defender (affectionately nicknamed the ‘Big F****** German’ or BFG by his adoring fan) stood tall, using one of his telescopic legs in the first half to deny Costa and throwing his body on the line to block shots and make vital interceptions.

Mertesacker was only throw into central defense because Laurent Koscielny was suspended and both Gabriel and Skhodran Mustafi were injured in the past week.

He was incredible in marshaling Arsenal’s backline and along with David Opsina kept Chelsea at bay before Ramsey grabbed the winner late on.


TAYLOR GETS HUGE DECISIONS CORRECT

“Did Arsenal get lucky?” is one of the main questions you will hear after this game.

They weren’t. Referee Anthony Taylor got the key decisions correct. The first goal was flagged for offside but he overruled his linesman to allow the goal to stand and although Aaron Ramsey was in an offside position, he wasn’t interfering with play, so that was the right call.

There may have been a handball by Sanchez in the build up but that was missed totally and the decision to overturn the offside flag was the correct one.

In the second half Victor Moses then clearly took a tumble to try and get a penalty kick as he received a second yellow card. No complaints and another brave, but good, call from Taylor.

Two key decisions went Arsenal’s way, but they were the right calls. Chelsea can not complain.


WASTEFUL CHELSEA BLOW DOUBLE

Diego Costa may well have played his last game for Chelsea as a move to the Chinese Super League beckons this summer. It sounds harsh, but Chelsea may not miss the Spanish international as much as everything thinks.

Although he scored to make it 1-1, Costa could have scored a hat trick. He took too long to get his shot off just after Arsenal went ahead as three Gunners defenders blocked his effort, and he then raced clear of Rob Holding but failed to get past David Ospina in another first half chance. He then drilled a shot straight at Ospina in the second half with Chelsea trailing 2-1.

It wasn’t just Costa who was guilty of missing chances though.

Pedro blazed over from a glorious position in the first half and in the second half he curled wide, while Victor Moses had an effort saved down low by Ospina.

Chelsea have come up short in attack in a few big games this season, including the 3-0 defeat at Arsenal, 2-0 defeats at Tottenham and Manchester United and now the FA Cup final.

Antonio Conte will be searching very quickly for the phone numbers of Alvaro Morata, Romelu Lukaku et al.

Arsenal 2-1 Chelsea: Gunners win FA Cup in dramatic fashion

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LONDON — Arsenal won the 2016-17 FA Cup after beating London rivals Chelsea in a dramatic Wembley final on Saturday.

The Gunners took the lead controversially through Alexis Sanchez and had numerous chances to extend their lead in the first half.

Chelsea were reduced to 10 men late in the second half with Victor Moses shown a second yellow card, but Diego Costa equalized just when they appeared down and out. Moments later Aaron Ramsey popped up to head home the winner and despite late chances for both teams the Gunners held on for victory.

Arsenal have now won the FA Cup in three of the past four season, with the north London club now winning a record 13 FA Cups and manager Arsene Wenger has now secured his seventh FA Cup, the most by any manager in history.

[ MORE: FA Cup box score, stats ]

Arsenal got off to the perfect start, albeit in controversial fashion, as the ball broke to Sanchez it appeared to hit his hand but the Chilean raced through and barged past Aaron Ramsey to smash home a low shot. Ramsey was clearly in an offside position as the linesman flagged but referee Anthony Taylor overruled the decision and the goal stood. 1-0 to the Arsenal.

At the other end the ball broke kindly to Diego Costa but three Arsenal defenders charged in to block his shot.

Arsenal then missed a host of chances to doubled their lead as Mesut Ozil beat Thibaut Courtois but Gary Cahill hooked off the line, then Danny Welbeck hit the post with a header and the follow up from Ramsey bounced off his chest and hit the post.

Chelsea had a great chance as a long ball forward found Costa who beat Rob Holding and raced into the box but David Opsina saved bravely to keep Arsenal ahead.

The Gunners then went agonizingly close once again before half time as Welbeck’s shot from close range was blocked by Courtois and then as the ball rolled towards the goal Cahill was again on hand to clear. Pedro blazed a chance over the bar for Chelsea before half time but Arsenal led and were incredibly unlucky not to be further in front.

In the second half Chelsea, as expected, came flying out of the traps. N'Golo Kante had an effort saved, then Per Mertesacker made a fine tackle on Costa before Opsina saved superbly from Moses.

Pedro flashed a shot wide and Chelsea kept pouring forward as they became increasingly susceptible on the break as Sanchez found Hector Bellerin brilliantly but Courtois caught his poor cross.

Another huge moment of controversy arrived with just over 20 minutes to go as Moses went down in the box after being closed down by Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and referee Taylor decided to book the Chelsea man for simulation. That was Moses’ second yellow of the game and Chelsea were down to 10-men.

Just when it looked like Chelsea had no hope, Willian clipped a hopeful ball into the box which Costa chested down and his shot into the ground took a slight deflection off Mertesacker and in. 1-1. Game on.

Less than three minutes later the Gunners were back in front as substitute Olivier Giroud, who had been on the pitch for a matter of moments, clipped in a delightful cross which Ramsey headed in to make it 2-1 and sent the Arsenal fans wild.

Bellerin raced clear late on but his low shot across goal squirmed inches wide, then Opsina made a wonderful save from Costa and Ozil hit the post, however none of that mattered as Arsenal held on to win their third FA Cup in four years and end Chelsea’s hopes of securing the double.

LIVE, AT THE HALF: Rampant Arsenal lead Chelsea in FA Cup final

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Arsenal lead Chelsea 1-0 at half time of the 2016-17 FA Cup final, but they should be so much further ahead.

[ LIVE: Follow the FA Cup final here ]

Alexis Sanchez put Arsenal ahead in controversial fashion as Aaron Ramsey was clearly in an offside position and flagged for offside, but referee Anthony Taylor overruled his linesman to allow the goal to stand.

Ramsey didn’t touch the ball but was remarkably close to it when Sanchez raced through to score.

Mesut Ozil, Danny Welbeck and Ramsey had further chances to score with Gary Cahill twice clearing off the line, while Chelsea had two chances through Diego Costa but he couldn’t convert.

Click on the link above to follow all the action from Wembley live.

What a first 45 minutes!

VIDEO: Moving tribute to Manchester bombing victims at FA Cup final

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At the FA Cup final on Saturday at Wembley there was a moving tribute to the people killed in the Manchester bombing attack earlier this week.

On Monday a suicide bomber killed 22 people and injured a further 67 after detonating a bomb outside Manchester Arena following an Ariana Grande concert.

Ahead of the FA Cup final, Arsenal and Chelsea came together to salute everyone impacted by the atrocity.

Watch the moving video below as 90,000 stood in silence to show their solidarity.