By Chris Harris

Extra work on the training pitch and extra hours in the gym are the twin pillars of Theo Walcott's improvement this season.

The England international has made a flying start to the campaign with four goals in his first two starts - including a hat-trick against Blackpool at Emirates Stadium last week. The 21-year-old has created countless other openings with his direct running and more considered crossing.

Walcott has clearly benefited from a full pre-season of preparation, something he was denied last year when international commitments and injury kept him on the periphery. The forward has had the chance to put in some hard graft at London Colney in recent months and it is clearly paying off.

"It has gone very well so far for club and country," said Walcott. "I had a very good pre-season, no injuries, I had a nice break over the summer and everything is going well so far.

"I stay behind to improve on things like the final ball, the end product, stuff like that. I practice crossing and finishing and penalties. I'm not the best at penalties. Vito Mannone goes in goal and I work with Bacary Sagna on the right, working on that combination and putting crosses in for the strikers.

"We get Marouane Chamakh in there, too, so he can get used to where the crosses are going to go. Hopefully it pays off in the games. If you get your body and your brain used to it, it happens.

"Sometimes I still like to come inside, and, hopefully, I'll get on the scoresheet again this season. But as a winger you also want to get wide and provide assists. You want to keep the width, especially for the fantastic players in the middle. Arsène Wenger talks to me about being aggressive, running at players. So far this season I've been doing that."

Walcott's technical and tactical improvements have been plain to see but he is also physically stronger. Two seasons ago the then teenager was prone to being brushed off the ball but he has been pumping iron to put that right.

"This season I've been going to the gym more," he revealed. "I don't want to slow myself down but if I got kicked when I was younger I probably would have stayed down.

"Now I get up. That's when a full back thinks, 'I'm going to have a torrid day.'"

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1 Sep 2010