AP Photo/Sergei Grits

BATE Borisov takes 1st leg lead v. Arsenal

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  • Dragun scores before halftime
  • Gunners have 77 percent possession
  • Both teams but three shots on target
  • Lacazette sent off

BATE Borisov stunned Arsenal with a 1-0 Europa League first leg win at Borisov Arena on Thursday,

A free kick from Igor Stasevich was headed home by Stanislav Dragun in the 45th minute for the lone goal of the game.

The second leg is Thursday at the Emirates Stadium.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Alexandre Lacazette had a goal called back for Arsenal, and capped his day with an 85th minute red card.

Lacazette swung his arm backward and caught Aleksandar Filipovic, and will be set for multiple games on the bench.

[ LIVE: Europa League scores  ]

Europa League, LIVE — Arsenal, Chelsea begin first legs

AP Photo/Frank Augstein
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The way it looks, Arsenal and Chelsea may need a Europa League title to revisit the hallowed grounds of the Champions League.

[ FOLLOW: Europa League scores ]

Arsenal goes first, its Round of 32 first leg set for a 12:55 p.m. ET kickoff at Borisov Arena against BATE Borisov.

Alexandre Lacazette leads the line for Arsenal in Belarus, with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Denis Suarez on the bench.

Chelsea visits Malmo at 3 p.m. ET.

Full slate

12:55 p.m. ET
Lazio v. Sevilla
Rennes v. Real Betis
Slavia Prague v. Genk
Olympiacos v. Dynamo Kiev
Galatasaray v. Benfica
Rapid Vienna v. Inter Milan
Krasnodar v. Bayer Leverkusen
BATE Borisov v. Arsenal

3 p.m. ET
Club Brugge v. Red Bull Salzburg
Malmo v. Chelsea
Zurich v. Napoli
Celtic v. Valencia
Sporting Lisbon v. Villarreal
Shakhtar Donetsk v. Eintracht Frankfurt
Viktoria Plzen v. Dinamo Zagreb

Icardi’s Inter future as shaky as ever following captaincy stripping

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Prolific and controversial Inter Milan striker Mauro Icardi has turned down the club’s call-up to travel to Austria for Thursday’s Europa League Round of 32 first leg against Rapid Vienna.

Icardi was stripped of his captaincy earlier this week in the midst of a controversial season driven by contract negotiations led by his wife Wanda Nara.

[ MORE: Man Utd paid a lot to fire Mourinho ]

The couple have been at the center of Inter controversy for some time, with Football-Italia laying out an incredible timeline of drama which includes criticizing Inter’s ultras and name-dropping potential suitors outside of the club.

Here was Inter manager Luciano Spalletti:

“It was him who didn’t want to join up with the team. He was called up. He was disappointed, but it was also difficult for us to make this decision and announce it to him. … We’ve made a decision at an appropriate time and one that was well thought-out, albeit one that was very painful. Things around him have disturbed him and the team he captained. Now we have to focus all our attention on tomorrow’s game.”

Icardi, 25, has scored 122 times with 26 assists since arriving from Sampdoria. He has 15 goals this season including markers against Spurs, Barcelona, AC Milan, and Roma, but is goalless in his last seven Serie A starts.

Longtime Inter goalkeeper Samir Handanovic is the new captain of the club.

In case there’s some understandable worry that we’re heaping too much criticism on the player and his agent-wife, remember that Nara left Maxi Lopez for Sampdoria teammate Icardi to start the relationship, then posted photos of Lopez’s children in Icardi jerseys before an Inter-Sampdoria match.

Buyer beware.

The rest of the way: Top Six fixtures plus Cup competitions

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There will still be some Premier League fixture arrangements depending on the FA Cup, but the stretch run of the Top Four race is in focus Monday ahead of the last match of Week 25, with leaders Liverpool visiting West Ham United (Watch live at 3 p.m. ET Monday on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

I received some consternation from Liverpool supporters a few weeks back when I said the club’s fixture list combines with its limited cup competition schedule to allow for a very forgiving run toward the club’s first domestic league title of the Premier League era.

[ MORE: NYCFC adds new Designated Player ]

In other words, Liverpool’s only non-title outcome other than a massive injury crisis would not just require Man City or Spurs going unbeaten, but the Reds proffering a genuine choke job as well.

Liverpool’s depth was unable to lead it out of its first FA Cup match at Wolves, and the Reds depth and subs couldn’t deal with Chelsea’s depth and subs in the League Cup.

The result is plenty of time to regroup and plan tactically, and even a prolonged UEFA Champions League run would keep the Reds clear of the UCL butting up against a big challenge in the league. And that singular match would likely come with Liverpool having a day or two more rest than likely UEL participant Chelsea.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ] 

What about the other teams, you say? Man City and Chelsea are alive in three other tournaments including this month’s League Cup Final, while Manchester United is alive in two (the Red Devils and Blues will meet in the FA Cup on Feb. 16). Arsenal and Spurs only have UEL and UCL action, respectively.

Feel free to print out the below spreadsheet and mark it up with points. How do they finish 1-6 in the Premier League?

Europa League field: Who can Chelsea, Arsenal draw?

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There are 32 teams left in the quest for two spots at the Olympic Stadium in Baku, Azerbaijan, one of which will earn an automatic spot in the 2019-20 UEFA Champions League.

[ MORE: Europa League wrap ]

The intrigue in the field took a hit when Rangers and AC Milan failed to advance, meaning there will not be an Old Firm Derby or Milan Derby inside of UEL play.

And Maurizio Sarri‘s last two clubs, Napoli and Chelsea, are seeded for the Round of 32 draw, so they will not meet for at least one more round.

Both Chelsea and Arsenal can draw anyone from the group of unseeded teams, with no English teams in the field. Arsenal-Celtic? Chelsea-Lazio?

Seeded teams
Bayer Leverkusen
Red Bull Salzburg
Zenit Saint-Petersburg
Dinamo Zagreb
Arsenal
Real Betis
Villarreal
Eintracht Frankfurt
Genk
Sevilla
Dynamo Kiev
Chelsea
Napoli
Valencia
Inter Milan
Benfica

Unseeded teams
Zurich
Celtic
Slavia Prague
Fenerbahce
Sporting Lisbon
Olympiacos
Rapid Vienna
Lazio
Malmo
Krasnodar
Rennes
BATE Borisov
Viktoria Plzen
Club Brugge
Shakhtar Donetsk
Galatasaray