Arsenal’s speed demon explains the secret training sessions he uses that have supercharged his game
Hi Theo. How vital is extra training to staying fit and fast for a full season? I think it’s important to always stay one step ahead of everyone else. If you can find a way to improve your game by one per cent, then you are going to have an advantage over your opponent. As you get older you need to take care of your body, as you can feel the intensity of the Premier League improving after every season. The younger players are all physically able to compete and that makes it even more competitive for a place in the team. You have to make sure you’re always fit and ready to go.
Players often post images of their workout sessions on social media – does that provide competition?
I’m someone who isn’t too bothered about what other people are doing. I’m good at just focusing on myself and making sure that I do the little things right. If you are professional and do everything properly on the training field, in the gym and outside of the club, things will fall in place. I like to have my week planned out, so I know when I head into a game I haven’t cut any corners. But there is definitely a bit of competition when you see the other players doing workouts on social media – sometimes you will see a coach using one of your drills. It’s all fun and games.
Do you include any additional sprint work in your daily training routines?
After I’d ruptured my anterior cruciate ligament [against Spurs in 2014] I was introduced to a sprint coach. I felt that was the first thing I needed to look at. Speed is a huge part of my game – I’m never going to be an endurance runner – and I was keen to make sure I didn’t lose my pace. I often do footwork drills with ladders or reaction sessions using cones to retain sharpness. When I was young I tried to do 100-metre running at county level, but my technique was nowhere near that of trained sprinters. I never really got the chance to work on it, but who knows – maybe I would have been a sprinter if I’d carried on with it? You turned 28 in March having agreed to join Arsenal at 16. Have you had to modify training as you’ve got older? I have always done quite a lot of work away from the training ground, so I’m continuing to do all the right things. I’ve worked with a personal trainer on my core strength, because I’ve always believed that was a weakness of mine. I also spend some time in cryotherapy chambers and ice baths, while various stretching exercises help me to recover from training sessions and matches as quickly as possible. They definitely help because I very rarely have aching legs afterwards, so I’m capable of playing in a game once every two or three days.
With a couple of young kids at home now, is your recovery regime affected?
Not too much. I’m quite lucky because normally they sleep through the night and wake up at about 5.30am. 30am. I get up with them and once I’m up, I’m up, so I don’t go back to bed or anything like that. Once I’m in my car and heading off for training, my focus is all on that, and then when I go back home again I’m a dad. Having kids is really good; they’re a healthy distraction from football and it means I can switch off from the game.
Do you think you need a nasty streak to play at the highest level nowadays?
Yes and no. I’m the type of person who will be aggressive when I need to be – and that’s when I play my best football. Last season, I tried to pick on Hull City defender Harry Maguire (below) who is twice my size, so I don’t mind getting stuck in. I’ll take my fair share of kicks but always get straight back up again. The opposition hate that as they know they can’t affect you mentally. I like to use my body more on the pitch these days, because I feel stronger physically and have got a lot of power in my legs.
Footballers can get plenty of stick on social media – how important is it to block it out and be mentally strong?
That’s just the way the world is today. People like to comment on everything but, to be honest, I don’t really see any of it. One of the most important things is to listen to all of the people around you, such as family, your coaches and your own thoughts, too. I do what I do for me. I don’t worry about opinions of others who know nothing about me.
You have played as both a striker and wideman for Arsenal – have modern players got to be tactically versatile?
I think so, yes. Around 10-15 years ago everybody in England played in a 4-4-2 formation. However, now there is more variety, which means you’ve got to be able to adapt. When I first started out with Southampton I was a forward in a 4-4-2 system. I learned a lot from watching people like Michael Owen and Emile Heskey – they had a great big man, little man partnership at Liverpool. I have played in quite a few positions since I joined Arsenal, but I think the right wing is where I will feature the most this season.
“Last season, I tried to pick on Harry Maguire who is about twice my size, so I don’t mind getting stuck in”