Jack Wilshere returns to Arsenal training three days early as he looks to put criticism over smoking pictures behind him ahead of pivotal season

Wilshere's place in the Arsenal starting line-up could come under serious scrutiny this season and the midfielder faces a battle to prove his future lies at the Emirates

England midfielder Jack Wilshere has returned to Arsenal training three days ahead of schedule, just days after being heavily criticised for being pictured smoking and drinking in a swimming pool while on a holiday in Las Vegas.

Wilshere was spotted enjoying an off-season break along with England team-mates Joe Hart and James Milner, but pictures quickly emerged showing the 22-year-old smoking a cigarette – the second time he has been seen doing so in nine months.

Ahead of what could be a pivotal season in his career, Wilshere posted on his Instagram account that he was back at Arsenal’s training base head of Monday’s scheduled return date, and posed alongside his international team-mate Theo Walcott to confirm the winger was nearing a return from the knee injury that ruled him out of the World Cup.

Sitting alongside Walcott, Wilshere said: “1st day back was tough, not going to lie! But look who's back in his boots! #TJW #29Days #WilshWillBeReady @theowalcott.”

Wilshere faces a season that could define how his Arsenal career will play out. While Aaron Ramsey shone throughout last season – although he was hampered by a near-four month lay-off with a thigh injury – Wilshere found himself on the fringes of the first-team, and Arsenal’s transfer business this summer could see him fall down the pecking order further.

The Gunners have been linked with Real Madrid midfielder Sami Khedira, and wit Ramsey joining the likes of Mikel Arteta, Mathieu Flamini, Tomas Rosicky and a fit-again Abou Diaby also available, Wilshere could struggle to cement down a regular spot in Arsene Wenger’s side. He also suffered a number of niggling injuries, the worst of which saw him break a bone in his foot during England’s international friendly against Denmark in March that ruled him out for over six weeks and threatened to scupper his World Cup hopes.

He returned to fitness to travel to Brazil, but only played 90 minutes as he came off the bench in the 2-1 defeat to Italy and played 73 minutes in the dead-rubber draw against Costa Rica, with the Three Lions’ group stage elimination ending their campaign at the earliest possibility.

 

Arsenal supporters will be keen to see Walcott back in action in the new season, having lost the influential winger to a serious knee injury during the 2-0 FA Cup third round victory over North London rivals Tottenham.

The 25-year-old ruptured his anterior cruciate ligament, but famously displayed the scoreline to irate Spurs fans as he was carried off the pitch on a stretcher, with a number or projectiles thrown at Walcott as a result.

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“The knee is going really well,” said Walcott, who has so far refused to put a date on a comeback. “I am doing some good stuff with the physios and fitness coaches and we have worked really hard throughout the summer.

“Things are looking really good and I have worked very hard for the last five months now.

Walcott angered Spurs fans with this hand gesture Walcott angered Spurs fans with this hand gesture “The most important thing is getting the strength back and it has pretty much healed – it is just about building up that stability and strength again. It is coming along nicely and I am really pleased.”

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