Walcott's stunning display tinged by tragedy

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The Independent Football

Theo Walcott's first ever goal at the Emirates stadium on Tuesday night was a welcome milestone for the teenager but the ups and downs of his football career have been kept in perspective by a recent family tragedy. As 59,000 Arsenal fans rose to acclaim Walcott's first of two goals against Slavia Prague, the striker pointed up to the sky and mouthed "that's for you" in memory of his friend Luke Amos.

Like Walcott, Amos came from Newbury in Berkshire and was just 20 when he was killed last month. The promising musician died when his motorcycle was in a collision with a four-by-four vehicle. Amos' older brother Ryan is the partner of Walcott's sister Holly and the couple have two children. It is understood that Walcott was with Ryan in the family home when the news of his brother Luke's accident was broken. In his post-match interviews he said the goal was dedicated to Luke.

His life may be very different to that of the average English 18 year-old but Walcott has not been spared the harsher lessons of life that every teenager encounters. Ryan, who gave a speech at his brother's funeral earlier this month, was not at the game on Tuesday although he usually watches Arsenal home and away with the Walcott family – who are a very close bunch. And after a difficult month, Walcott's parents Don and Lynn will have to get used to their son being billed as the potential saviour of the England football team all over again.

At just 18, you get the impression Walcott can handle it second time around, 17 months after he was the surprise name in Sven Goran Eriksson's 2006 World Cup squad. Since then, Walcott said, he has been happy to bide his time. "I wasn't going to go knocking on the manager's door and asking why I wasn't in the [Arsenal] team," he said.

"I was only 17 and hadn't even played in the Premiership when I went to Germany. It wasn't my decision to pick me. But it was good experience to train with world-class players, see the way they handled themselves.

"I never read the papers, so I never know what people are saying about me. That helps. The environment I'm in with the other players around me, I don't really see what is in the papers. Of course I wanted to play for Arsenal. But I was only 17 and I didn't want to play too much and get injuries. The boss has done brilliantly with me and now I'm ready to push on."

He described his first goals at the Emirates as "a weight off my shoulders" although there are no guarantees that he will be in the team at Anfield on Sunday. The second of his two goals drew comparisons with Thierry Henry's finishing – Arsène Wenger agreed – but Walcott pointed out that he had learnt from all the strikers at Arsenal. It seems a common feature among these young Arsenal players that they do not wish to be regarded as apprentices to that particular departed moody master.

Walcott's team-mate Manuel Almunia has launched a spirited defence of his record after Jens Lehmann expressed disbelief that the Spaniard was first choice goalkeeper ahead of him. "I don't care what other people say, goalkeeper is a difficult position," Almunia said. "I have been almost three years without playing in the Premier League. It's normal. But now I am playing it's no longer a problem for me.

"I don't care [that Lehmann said he could not handle pressure]. I only want to play well on Sunday. If I listen to all the things other people say about me I will turn crazy. I never had any doubts that I would keep my place."

Group H

Results: Arsenal 3 Seville 0; Slavia Prague 2 Steaua Bucharest 1; Seville 4 Slavia Prague 2; Steaua Bucharest 0 Arsenal 1; Arsenal 7 Slavia Prague 0; Seville 2 Steaua Bucharest 1.

Remaining fixtures: 7 Nov: Slavia Prague v Arsenal; Steaua Bucharest v Seville. 27 Nov: Seville v Arsenal; Steaua Bucharest v Slavia Prague. 12 Dec: Arsenal v Steaua Bucharest; Slavia Prague v Seville.