Theo Walcott is determined to "get in Roy Hodgson's face" and prove he should be a first choice for England, with the striker hopeful of being selected for Wednesday's friendly against Brazil at Wembley.
Walcott feels more settled now, having signed a new contract with Arsenal. He believes his growing maturity was illustrated by the physical battle he endured during the weekend's 1-0 win over Stoke City that left scratches around his left eye from Andy Wilkinson.
Walcott said: "It has been a slow process with England but at 23, 30 caps is not bad. A lot of players at that age have just started to come into the setup. I have a lot of experience under my belt – the next goal is to get into the starting lineup for England. Hopefully I can take that on Wednesday. It is going to be difficult.
"There are some great players. You need to get into the manager's face in training. I want to perform as well and the manager's going to pick his best team. When it comes to the tournament side of it there is the squad thing as well, and I want to do well but for me personally. I want the team to do well too. If I am in that team it makes me a better player."
After the victory over Stoke, Arsène Wenger hailed Walcott's refusal to be intimidated. Of the scratches around his eye, Walcott said: "I think it was Wilkinson – it must have been an accident, might have been hand and nails. There were loads of things happening off the ball which the linesmen and referees didn't see."
Walcott can joke about the encounter with Wilkinson. "Yes, a few people have said it makes me look a little bit harder. But I don't believe that because I am the biggest softy of them all. I might keep it and get a few more."
Walcott admits the uncertainty over his Arsenal future that rumbled on from pre-season until he signed the new deal in January had become almost too much. "It was a difficult process throughout the whole period," he said. "I was not starting a lot of games at the start of the season, it was difficult but I was reacting the right way. The last three weeks before it happened were probably the hardest. It was on my mind too much. My dad was always on the phone. My fiancee Mel as well. Luckily I coped with it all, because it was very difficult. It shows strong character there. It shows I've got some fantastic people around me as well. I was always talking to the manager.
"The last three games before it got sorted were very difficult. At times it was putting me off my game, it might not have shown, but it definitely did. Thankfully I got through that and can now concentrate. But it could have swung the other way and been chaos."
For Glen Johnson, there is contentment that he has cemented a place in Hodgson's XI having fought off competition from Kyle Walker, whose toe injury before last summer's European Championship gave the Liverpool right-back his chance.
"It is great on a personal level but I have never looked at it that way," Johnson said. "I have always looked after myself and just tried to play well in each game. Then I want to do enough to be selected for the next one. That has worked well for me over the last few years and that is what I will continue to do. That is what happens. People talk people up. It is part of the game and you have to get on with it.
"Any competition is healthy. If there is no competition you have nothing to fight for or chase after. Competition is good at any level or sport."
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010
image: © Ronnie Macdonald