RISING star Nathan Tella admitted it was a “dream come true” to play alongside Theo Walcott for Saints – having looked up to him in the academy ranks at Arsenal.

Tella spent 10 years in the youth system in north London before arriving at St Mary’s in 2017.

Five years ago, the Stevenage-born forward was asked who he looked up to in the Gunners’ ranks.

He replied: “Because of the type of player I am, I try to learn from Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain especially.

"The way that Theo collects the ball on the run is something I am emulating in my game.”

Asked about those quotes now he is in the same squad as Walcott, Tella replied: “That was my first full week of my scholarship – I think it was for the programme for the first game of the season.

“It just said ‘which players did you want to play like?’ I must have said Chamberlain and Theo Walcott – and here I am a couple of years later playing with him! It’s like a dream come true.

“At the start, I think it was more like a shock. I had to realise that I am now with the first team, especially with someone I looked up to.

“Him as a young player, breaking into the Arsenal first team – I wanted to do something like that. Even though it wasn’t at Arsenal, I am just happy that I was able to do it here.

“The fact that he’s come back here and I’ve just been able to talk to him and learn from him – watching how he is a player and person – it’s just an unbelievable experience.

“I am just grateful for it and I’m just happy he’s here.”

Tella got the chance to play alongside Walcott, having come off the bench in a lively 13-minute cameo at Chelsea back in October.

“He’s really positive. You can see that he’s had a career,” said Tella, when asked about working alongside the England international.

“Everything he says – you listen to the advice. He knows what he’s talking about.

“It’s more just trying to be like a sponge and just soak up everything he says.”

Having signed a fresh three-year contract at St Mary’s in July, 21-year-old Tella has made three top-flight appearances this season, as well as making his first senior start against Brentford in the Carabao Cup.

He was described as having “no fear” by boss Ralph Hasenhuttl earlier in the campaign.

Tella added: “It shows in training I just go out and try to give 100 per cent.

“If I get the opportunity to do it in games, I feel like I’m settling in still with the team and they have given me the confidence to go out and express myself.

“I am obviously there for a reason, whenever I get the opportunity to impress, just go out and do it and literally play with no fear.

“It’s mainly come from the team. They have given me the confidence to go out and do my thing, enjoy myself and express myself.”