Former Arsenal star Jack Wilshere has launched a defence of under-fire Thomas Partey after the midfielder was criticised by Martin Keown, and labelled him as a “top player”.

Partey started in defensive midfield for the Gunners as they were held to a goalless draw by Villarreal on Thursday night, which saw them knocked out of the Europa League.

The Ghanian moved to Arsenal in a £45million transfer from La Liga side Atletico Madrid, becoming a regular feature in Mikel Arteta’s midfield this season, making 32 appearances in all competitions.

But the 27-year-old has struggled to impress at the Emirates Stadium, battling several injuries and prompting concern that he does not represents a long-term option in Arsenal’s midfield.

Jack Wilshere has defended Thomas Partey
Jack Wilshere has defended Thomas Partey

Partey again failed to impress against Villarreal, which saw Arsenal legend Keown blast the midfielder following the match.

“We thought we were signing the next Patrick Vieira, and he hasn’t looked like that at all,” he told BT Sport.

“He started with an injury, he came back early and then got injured again. He doesn’t seem to have the legs in midfield, certainly on his own.”

Partey has failed to impress this season
Partey has failed to impress this season

Wilshere spent 10 years in Arsenal’s senior squad and has disagreed with Keown’s assessment of Partey’s abilities.

“They’re good players. Thomas Partey is a top, top player,” the 29-year-old told talkSPORT.

“I played against him in the semi-final of the Europa League and he was one of the toughest I played against.

“The recruitment is not down to Arteta. He’s the coach, he’s the manager and he picks the team.

“It is down to him to get the best out of them, but I wouldn’t say the recruitment is down to him anymore.”

The semi-final that Wilshere highlighted came in April 2018, when both the Englishman and Partey started both legs of the tie, which also saw Arsenal get knocked out.