Several large-scale interferometric gravitational-wave detectors use resonant arm cavities to enhance the light power in the interferometer arms. These cavities are based on different optical designs: One design uses wedged input mirrors to create additional optical pick-off ports for deriving control signals. The second design employs input mirrors without wedge and thus offers the possibility of using the etalon effect inside the input mirrors for tuning the finesse of the arm cavities. In this paper, we introduce a concept of maximum flexibility that combines both of these options, by featuring wedges at the input mirrors and using the etalon effect instead in the end mirrors. We present a design for the arm cavities of Advanced Virgo. The paper focusses on evaluating the influence of etalon imperfections onto the overall Advanced Virgo performance. We use numerical simulations to derive requirements for the manufacturing accuracy of an end mirror etalon for Advanced Virgo. Furthermore, we give analytical approximations for the achievable tuning range of an imperfect etalon depending on the curvature and orientation mismatch of the two etalon surfaces. We evaluate the displacement noise originating from temperature driven optical phase noise of the etalon. In addition the influence of the etalon effect onto other Advanced Virgo subsystems such as the alignment sensing and control is analysed. © 2009 IOP Publishing Ltd.