Isaac Hayden feels that undertaking extra fitness work before pre-season has helped him compete for a place in the first team.

The under-21s captain started Arsenal's friendlies against Boreham Wood and the New York Red Bulls and was part of the squad for the Emirates Cup.

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Hayden, who made his debut for the club against West Bromwich Albion last season, is pleased with his progress over the summer months and believes that being around the senior squad has aided his development.

"It was great to start in our opening friendly of pre-season at Boreham Wood," Hayden told the Arsenal Magazine. "When the first team came back after their break, a number of us joined in with their training so it was nice to get a run-out.

"I was eager to come back and start working. I always train hard during the off-season, even before pre-season starts. For the past two years during my break and during the season too I've been working with Sam Wilson, who is now my strength and conditioning coach at the club.

"We've been working really hard and I've always had a plan of giving myself the best opportunity to perform well in pre-season and not break down. We've had a plan for years and it's coming to fruition now, which is great. Any time you get the chance to play with the first team is a great experience."

Arsenal came up against former Gunner Thierry Henry in the recent friendly against the Red Bulls and Hayden was pleased to be given the chance to test himself against the club's record goalscorer.

"It was a fantastic experience playing against Thierry Henry," he said. "He drifted into midfield a bit more so luckily for me he wasn't making those trademark runs in behind like he used to.

"I've trained with Thierry on a few occasions when he came back to the club but it was special to play against him."

Copyright 2014 The Arsenal Football Club plc. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.arsenal.com as the source 14 Aug 2014